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Warren Buffett and Bill Gates Share Their 'Optimism' With Eager Columbia Business Students

David Goldman

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates answered questions from more than 700 cheering Columbia University students gathered in a campus auditorium for a 90-minute CNBC Town Hall event that will air at 9p ET tonight.

Despite the nation's economic problems and bleak job prospects for many of those attending, the mood has been very upbeat.

Gates said he's excited to be here to share his "optimism."

The early questions addressed Buffett and Gates' views of capitalism in the wake of the massive financial crisis that has rocked the world over the last year. Buffett says there were some difficult times but he never had a doubt that the American "way of life" would survive.

Speaking of the severe problems last fall at the height of the crisis, Buffett said, "Our economy was sputtering" and "is still sputtering some."

Gates says American capitalism will need some "tuning" but the basic system is strong.

Buffett repeated his long-held belief that investors shouldn't try to "time" the markets, and should look for good long-term values instead.

He says he sees more opportunities in U.S. investments than those in other countries because the U.S. has the world's largest economy.

The students in the audience listened attentively, enthusiastically laughing at Buffett's frequent jokes, and applauding often and strongly. At the conclusion of the 85-minute taping, Buffett and Gates received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

David Goldman

They are a fairly clean-cut bunch here in the audience, with many of the men wearing jackets and ties. I haven't seen anyone in a t-shirt.

Some of the questions have been from students seeking life and career advice. Buffett tells them to do what they love, not what they think will make them a lot of money. He says he was lucky to figure out what he loved early on in life. Plus, says Buffett, it's very important to "get married to the right person."

Gates tells the audience they should read and learn as much as they can. He also says it is important to think "long-term" and to have a healthy self-confidence.

When asked for his assessment of Apple CEO Steve Jobs (a question that produced a loud laugh from the crowd,) Gates was very complimentary, praising him for "saving the company" after his return several years ago.

As the audience was filing out, I asked one student whether she had found any inspiration in what Buffett and Gates had to say. She smiled, and said that she was inspired to try and find her own inspiration.

David Goldman

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates: Keeping America Great, a 90-minute CNBC Town Hall Event hosted by Becky Quick, airs tonight (Thursday) on CNBC television at 9p and 12:30a ET.

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