Gates to grads: 'You can do better at this than I did'

Bill and Melinda Gates at Stanford's graduation ceremony, June 15, 2014
Justin Sullivan / Staff | Getty Images News
Bill and Melinda Gates at Stanford's graduation ceremony, June 15, 2014

Optimism without empathy will not be enough to solve the problems facing the world, Bill Gates told Stanford's graduating class of 2014 in a commencement speech he gave with his wife, Melinda.

"If technology is purely market-driven and we don't focus innovation on the big inequities, then we could have amazing inventions that leave the world even more divided," Gates said in the June 15 speech. "We won't improve public schools. We won't cure malaria. We won't end poverty. We won't develop the innovations poor farmers need to grow food in a changing climate."

Places like Stanford teem with optimism—especially optimism about the power of innovation, but optimism needs empathy to successfully tackle huge problems, he said.

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Gates said his early days in the software and computing industry were fueled by an optimistic belief that computers could be made available to the average person. He said he carried that optimism in the power of technology and innovation when trying to cure sickness and poverty through his Gates Foundation.

Gates said when he visited a hospital crowded with people dying from tuberculosis during one of his many trips to South Africa, he thought he had seen "hell with a waiting list."

"But seeing this hell didn't reduce my optimism, it channeled it," he said.

Now, he said, the foundation is testing a drug for TB that could bring the cure rate from 50 percent after 18 months for $2,000 per patient, to 80-90 percent after six months for under $100.

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Optimism is often dismissed as "false hope," Gates said. But there is also such a thing as false hopelessness. With the right outlook, the couple said, they believe such ills as poverty and disease can be eradicated.

"Optimism for me isn't a passive expectation that things will get better; it's a conviction that we can make things better—that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is, we can help people if we don't lose hope and we don't look away," Melinda Gates said.

"I think most of you have a broader worldview than I had at your age," Bill Gates told the graduates. "You can do better at this than I did."

—By staff