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Melinda Gates tells Duke grads: It's all about your real connections

Network World Staff | May 15, 2013
Transcript of technologist/philanthropist Melinda Gates' commencement address to Duke University graduates.

But over the course of your lives, I promise you will have many opportunities to use technology to make your world bigger: to meet more different kinds of people, and to keep in touch with more of the people you meet.

These connections are important by themselves, but the truth is, I don't want you to connect for connection's sake alone. I want you to connect because I believe it will inspire you to do something, to make a difference in the world. Humanity in the abstract will never inspire you in the same way as human beings you meet. Poverty is not going to motivate you. But people will motivate you.

YOUR FIRST CONNECTION

When my husband, Bill, and I started our foundation, we didn't know much about global health at all. I read the academic literature and talked to experts in the field. But most of what I learned was expressed in morbidity and mortality rates, not in flesh and blood. So in 2001, I took my first foundation learning trip, to India and Thailand, to meet with people and find out what their lives were really like behind the veil of statistics.

One of my first visits was to a tiny, impoverished village in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. I spent most of my day talking to women about the issues we were working on at the foundation: women and children's health, infectious diseases, and sanitation.

Late in the afternoon, one of the women who'd been showing me around invited me into her home. We went inside and she produced two lawn chairs that were hanging from a nail in her kitchen. They were the aluminum folding kind with the itchy fabric seat you've sat on a million times, quite possibly when you were tenting in Krzyzewskiville. When I was growing up in Dallas, we had the same chairs. On Sunday nights in the summer, my parents and my siblings and I used to set them up on our back patio and gaze up into the sky together as a family.

It turned out my host wanted to show me her stunning view of the Himalayas, and as we sat and contemplated the planet's highest peaks, we talked about our children and the future. Our aspirations were basically the same. We wanted our children to fulfill their potential. We wanted the love and respect of family and friends. We wanted meaningful work. The biggest difference between us was not what we dreamt about, but how hard it was for her to make her dreams come true.

Some people assume that Bill and I are too rich to make a connection with someone who's poor, even if our intentions are good. But adjectives like rich and poor don't define who any of us truly are as human beings. And they don't make any one individual less human than the next. The universe is like computer code in that way. Binary. There is life, and there is everything else. Zeroes and ones. I'm a one. You're a one. My friend in the Himalayas is a one.

 

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