Microsoft's Most Famous Couple, Bill and Melinda Gates: Stanford Commencement Speech Transcript

Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates team up to deliver Stanford address, laud grads for optimism and innovation.

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The world of science and technology is driving phenomenal innovations and Stanford stands at the center of that, creating new companies, prize-winning professors, ingenious software, miracle drugs, and amazing graduates. We're on the verge of mind-blowing breakthroughs in what human beings can do for each other. And people here are really excited about the future.

At the same time, if you ask people across the United States, "Is the future going to be better than the past?" most people will say: "No. My kids will be worse off than I am." They think innovation won't make the world better for them or for their children.

So who's right?

The people who say innovation will create new possibilities and make the world better?

...or...

The people who see a trend toward inequality and a decline in opportunity and don't think innovation will change that?

The pessimists are wrong in my view, but they're not crazy. 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.

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.

If our optimism doesn't address the problems that affect so many of our fellow human beings, then our optimism needs more empathy. If empathy channeled our optimism, we would see the poverty and the disease and the poor schools, we would answer with our innovations, and we would surprise the pessimists.

Over the next generation, you Stanford graduates will lead a new wave of innovation and apply it to your world. Which problems will you decide to solve? If your world is wide, you can create the future we all want. If your world is narrow, you may create the future the pessimists fear.

I started learning in Soweto that if we're going to make our optimism matter to everyone and empower people everywhere, we have to see the lives of those most in need. If we have optimism, but we don't have empathy then it doesn't matter how much we master the secrets of science, we're not really solving problems; we're just working on puzzles.

I think most of you have a broader worldview than I had at your age. You can do better at this than I did. If you put your hearts and minds to it, you can surprise the pessimists. We can't wait to see it.

Melinda: Let your heart break. It will change what you do with your optimism.

On a trip to South Asia, I met a desperately poor mother who brought me her two small children and implored me: "Please take them home with you." When I begged her forgiveness and said I could not, she said: "Then please take one."

On another trip, to South Los Angeles, I was talking to a group of high school students from a tough neighborhood when one young woman said to me: "Do you ever feel like we are just somebody else's kids whose parents shirked their responsibilities, that we're all just leftovers?"

These women made my heart break and still do. And the empathy intensifies if I admit to myself: "That could be me."

When I talk with the mothers I meet during my travels, I see that there is no difference at all in what we want for our children. The only difference is our ability to give it to them.

What accounts for that difference?

Bill and I talk about this with our kids at the dinner table. Bill worked incredibly hard and took risks and made sacrifices for success. But there is another essential ingredient of success, and that ingredient is luck absolute and total luck.

When were you born? Who were your parents? Where did you grow up? None of us earned these things. They were given to us.

When we strip away our luck and privilege and consider where we'd be without them, it becomes easier to see someone who's poor and sick and say "that could be me." This is empathy; it tears down barriers and opens up new frontiers for optimism.

So here is our appeal to you: As you leave Stanford, take your genius and your optimism and your empathy and go change the world in ways that will make millions of others optimistic as well.

You don't have to rush. You have careers to launch, debts to pay, spouses to meet and marry. That's enough for now.

But in the course of your lives, without any plan on your part, you'll come to see suffering that will break your heart.

When it happens, and it will, don't turn away from it; turn toward it.

That is the moment when change is born.

Congratulations and good luck.

This story, "Microsoft's Most Famous Couple, Bill and Melinda Gates: Stanford Commencement Speech Transcript" was originally published by Network World.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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