Often, the role of the press is to shine a light on that which is broken. Whether it’s the Washington Post reporters Monday afternoon telling the story of President Donald Trump accidentally leaking classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador or the Local reporting staff detailing the failure of Pastorius Park users to leash their dogs, journalists are typically the bearers of bad news.
It’s hard to find the time to focus on the good news. Even as many college students around the country graduate, too much emphasis is spent on controversial commencement speakers and the dangers of a U.S. economy that some argue is not living up to promises colleges make to incoming freshman about their future potential.
It’s rough out there.
I was thinking on Monday how to approach the subject of graduation for this column, pondering the realities facing college grads today when I started procrastinating a bit by looking at my Twitter feed, the Fidget Spinner of every journalist I know (If you don’t know what one is, Google it). And there I found some of the best advice I’ve seen in a long time.
That advice came from Bill Gates, one of only a few successful Americans I dare say I actually admire. Gates, once the posterchild of avarice and greed as the head of the anti-competitive, monopolistic software behemoth Microsoft has had a second act in American life that so few follow. He has dedicated himself and his vast fortune to fighting poverty and inequality, while promoting education and, lately, alternative energy. If I were to choose a billionaire businessman to be our president, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. Bill Gates would be the best choice.
In a series of 14 tweets, Gates gave a sort of brief commencement speech, touching on what careers he thought would make the greatest impact on the world and then relating what he wished he had known when he left college (he never graduated, having founded Microsoft as a student at Harvard).
“Looking back on when I left college, there are some things I wish I had known,” he wrote. “Intelligence takes many forms. It’s not one-dimensional. And not as important as I used to think. I also have one big regret: When I left school, I knew little about the world’s worst inequalities. Took me decades to learn.”
Gates then went on to mention the work of linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker, whose book “The Better Angels of our Nature” details the amazing progress of human civilization over the last several centuries. Pinker notes that the world is far more peaceful and safe than it has ever been.
“It doesn’t mean you ignore the serious problems we face,” Gates wrote. “I just means you believe they can be solved.”
That sentiment, Gates said, was the core of his worldview, and it’s a strain of optimism that I think is likely necessary for any thinking person to propel themselves out of bed every morning. There are so many problems that need to be solved, but as Pinker argues – and Gates has consistently demonstrated with the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – those problems are best met with meaningful efforts at solving them.
“This is an amazing time to be alive,” Gates concluded. “I hope you make the most of it.”