Bill Gates is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian. He is best known as the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation.
Following is the full text [Verbatim transcript] of Mr. Gates’ commencement speech delivered at Harvard on June 7, 2007.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Bill Gates Harvard Commencement 2007
President Bok, former President Rudenstine, incoming President Faust, members of the Harvard corporation and the board of overseers. Members of the faculty, parents and especially the graduates.
I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree.”
I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I’ll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume.
I applaud the graduates for taking a much more direct route to your degrees.
For my part, I’m just happy that the Crimson called me Harvard’s most successful drop out.
I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class. I did the best of everyone who failed.
But I also want to be recognized as the guy who got Steve Balmer to drop out of business school.
I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation.
If I’d spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.
Harvard was a phenomenal experience for me. Academic life was fascinating.
I used to sit in on lots of classes that I hadn’t even signed up for. And dorm life was terrific. I lived up at Radcliffe, in Courier House.
There were always a lot of people in my dorm room late at night discussing things, because everyone knew that I didn’t worry about getting up in the morning.
That’s how I came to be the leader of the antisocial group. We clunged each other as a way of validating our rejection of all those social people.
Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there and most of the guys were math-science types. The combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean.
That’s where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn’t guarantee you success.
One of my biggest memories of Harvard came in January 1975. When I made a call from Courier House to a company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that had begun making the world’s first personal computer. I offered to sell them software.
I worried they would realize I was just a student in a dorm and hang up on me. Instead they said, we’re not quite ready, come see us in a month. Which was a good thing because we hadn’t written the software yet.
From that moment I worked day and night on the extra credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of a remarkable journey with Microsoft.
What I remember above all about Harvard, was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging but always challenging.
It was an amazing privilege and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made and the ideas I worked on.
But taking a serious look back, I do have one big regret.
I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world, appalling disparities of health and wealth, and opportunity, that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.
I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.
But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.
Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality healthcare or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.
I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country.
And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries. It took me decades to find out.
You graduates came to Harvard at a different time. You know more about the world’s inequities than the classes that came before.
In your years here I hope you’ve had a chance to think about how in this age of accelerating technology we can finally take on these inequities and we can solve them.
Imagine just for the sake of discussion that you have a few hours a week and a few dollars a month to donate to a cause. And you wanted to spend that time and money where it would have the greatest impact in saving and improving lives.
Where would you spend it?
For Melinda and I the challenge is the same. How can we do the most good for the greatest number with the resources we have?
During our discussions on this question, Melinda and I read an article about the millions of children who are dying every year in poor countries from diseases that we have long ago made harmless in this country.
Measles, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis-B, yellow fever.
One disease that I had never heard of, rotavirus, was killing half a million children each year. None of them in the United States.
We were shocked.
We had assumed that if millions of children were dying and they could be saved, the world would make it a priority to discover and deliver the medicines to save them. But it did not.
For under a dollar there were interventions that could save lives that just weren’t being delivered.
If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not.
We said to ourselves this can’t be true, but if it is true it deserves to be the priority of our giving.
So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: how could the world let these children die?
The answer is simple and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children and governments did not subsidize it. So the children die because their mothers and fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.
But you and I have both. We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism.
If we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit or at least earn a living, serving people who are suffering from the great inequities.
We can also press governments around the world to spend tax-payer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.
If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world.
Now this task is open ended. It can never be finished, but a conscious effort to answer this challenge can change the world. I’m optimistic that we can do this.
But I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say inequity has been with us since the beginning and will be with us until the end, because people just don’t care.
I completely disagree.
I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with. All of us here in this yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our heart.