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Bill Gates’ advice for graduates. What are the things he wishes he knew when he left college

Bill Gates never earned a college degree but still managed to become the richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$87.4 billion. Still, Microsoft’s co-founder congratulated this year’s graduates for accomplishing something he never could. While admitting he’s piling on those who already gave graduates advice on their future, he shared a few thoughts with them.

On his blog, where he shared an article originally published in Mic, Bill Gates says he was lucky to be in his early 20s when the digital revolution was just getting underway. So he and Paul Allen had the chance to help shape it. Gates says this was the reason he lacks a college degree — “I left school because we were afraid the revolution would happen without us.”

But Gates says that if he were starting out today and looking for the same kind of opportunity to make a big impact in the world, he would consider three fields: artificial intelligence, energy, and biosciences.


“One is artificial intelligence. We have only begun to tap into all the ways it will make people’s lives more productive and creative. The second is energy because making it clean, affordable, and reliable will be essential for fighting poverty and climate change. The third is the biosciences, which are ripe with opportunities to help people live longer, healthier lives,” Gates wrote.

As for things that are ‘true in life’ no matter the career, Gates says he wished he had understood some things better when he left school.

“For one thing, intelligence is not quite as important as I thought it was, and it takes many different forms. […] I had to learn to recognise and appreciate people’s different talents. The sooner you can do this, if you don’t already, the richer your life will be. Another thing I wish I had understood much earlier is what true inequity looks like. I did not see it up close until my late 30s, when Melinda and I took our first trip to Africa. We were shocked by what we saw. When we came back, we began learning more. It blew our minds that millions of children there were dying from diseases that no one in rich countries even worried about. We thought it was the most unjust thing in the world. We realised we couldn’t wait to get involved—we had to start giving back right away,” the philanthropist noted.

Gates highlighted the fact that graduates now know much more than he did when he was their age and technology empowers young people to help in ways he never could.

“I encourage you to surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you, and push you to be your best self. Melinda does that for me, and I am a better person for it. Like our good friend Warren Buffett, I measure my happiness by whether people close to me are happy and love me, and by the difference I make in other people’s lives,” Gates added.

As for a ‘graduation present,’ Bill Gates says he would give graduates a copy of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature,’ by Steven Pinker – “the most inspiring book I have ever read.”

John Beckett