Bill and Melinda Gates gave an emotional joint commencement speech at Stanford on Sunday, telling graduates to use their “genius” to help the poor and change the world.
“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,” said Melinda, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Both she and husband Bill, who co-founded the Microsoft empire, took turns sharing their humanitarian stories from India and Africa for 25 minutes, as they tried to hammer their message of “optimism” and “innovation” home.
“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness. That’s the attitude that says we can’t defeat poverty and disease. We absolutely can,” said Bill.
The couple shared somber stories of their troubled travels to impoverished communities abroad whose inhabitants suffered from AIDS, prostitution, hunger, and disease; yet they tried to muster a sense of positivity and courage to inspire those in attendance to take action, with technology at the fore.
Melinda spoke of her feelings during an encounter with a prostitute dying of AIDS in India: “I had absolutely nothing I could offer her. I knew I couldn’t save her, but I didn’t want her to be alone.”
One 22-year-old student with a bachelors degree in urban studies took a particular liking to the speech. Ma’ayan Dembo said she felt “inspired” by their words. Dembo said she had been contemplating many of the same ideas the Gates couple spoke about, like “how we have these great tech tools, but we’re using them to address silly problems, like how to connect your iPhone to your iPod, or use Uber for a ride home,” writes the Mercury News.
The Gates’s speech was the first ever in-tandem commencement speech given at Stanford University, notes the News. “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,” Melinda said, “don’t turn away from it. Turn toward it. That is the moment when change is born.”