by Lisa Liu, ’15
On October 1, 2014 Bill Gates came to Cornell University to give a speech and answer student questions about the future of higher education. When you hear the name Bill Gates, a whole string of words comes to mind. Successful. Innovative. Philanthropic. During the conversation, Gates highlighted his philanthropic work and tailored the conversation to reflect his vision of the future. Philanthropy, by service to others, garners support to address and solve some of the largest issues facing the world today. During the conversation Gates discussed the initiatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on two areas: global healthcare and the U.S. education system.
When Gates first wondered what the biggest philanthropic effort to pursue globally was, he concluded that certain aspects of healthcare is the “greatest injustice,” and therefore the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seeks to eradicate and provide more accessible treatment for certain diseases. The next most pertinent task of the foundation is to address the problems that U.S. K-12 schools face as well as issues in higher education. In Gates’ words, education and health problems are connected because they are two gigantic sectors of the economy where the market mechanism does not really apply. In other words, it is hard to place a value on being healthy or educated.
In this conversation about philanthropy and his vision of the future, it is evident that Gates makes giving back the core of his success. Gates donated $25 million to build Gates Hall for information technology studies on Cornell’s campus, which demonstrates his commitment to developing young minds to reflect needs in the Age of Technology.
In addition to discussing these two topics, Gates also provided valuable life advice about what it means to be successful and his road to success:
- Someone asked what is the best advice Gates has for the “next Bill Gates.” He jokingly responded, “Well, you have to think of something that I didn’t think of.” Examining his statement speaks to what he believes is important to success: an entrepreneurial spirit, thinking outside of the box, and exploring uncharted territory—as well as the drive to make your dream become reality. This is true about Cornell, which has a working space called PopShop through a partnership with the Ithaca community to develop entrepreneurial ideas.
- While discussing the future of higher education, Gates noted that although information has been digitalized and therefore become more accessible, the problems with education have not diminished, and if nothing else, have only taken on different forms. He said, “Education isn’t about the knowledge being available; very few just sit down and read a book.” What I took away from this point was that intellectual inquiry paired with passion to learn about something new goes a long way for being successful.
- A student asked what students and universities could do to actually have meaningful international contributions instead of just having a cultural exchange that doesn’t always have a tangible impact. Gates responded by emphasizing that a meaningful international experience is one that engages in both directions, that an international experience can pay back socially by turning the person with that experience into a thoughtful advocate who volunteers and makes a difference. Cornell has many international engagement programs, which range from spring break trips through Alternative Breaks to study abroad and more.
Last but not least, Gates discussed what he did to stay motivated and focused to become successful. His basic advice is to pick a topic that you like and to be comfortable with reading and learning new things. He said, “Work on something that you love and where there’s a sense of progress”—because with genuine interest, curiosity about the world, and dedication to your own pursuits, anything is possible.