Gates to urge graduates to give back

May. 11, 2013 @ 04:25 PM

When Melinda Gates stands before 5,000 Duke University graduates Sunday, she plans to tell them how lucky they have been to attend a school such as her alma mater.

She also plans to tell them that they now have a responsibility to use the knowledge they have gained while at Duke to improve the world.

“I want to make sure that they know that they’ve had an unbelievable opportunity, however they got to Duke and whoever’s made sure they’ve gotten through, just this unbelievable opportunity to go to an institution like this is quite something, and I want them to use that to give something back to the world,” she said.

Gates, who along with her husband Bill Gates co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, made her comments Saturday at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy during a meeting with local media.

She said exactly what graduates give back is totally up to them.

“It really depends on where their passion comes from,” Gates said. “This is such a connected generation, a generation who really does see the problems of the world and they have access to them in a way that we didn’t when I went to Duke, and so I would love to see them try to make the world equal for all people in whatever way they find best.”  

Gates is a double graduate of the university who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics in 1986 and a master’s degree in business administration from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in 1987.

She has been generous to the university through the foundation, partnering with The Duke Endowment in 2007 to establish a $30 million endowment to launch DukeEngage, which provides money for Duke undergraduate students to pursue a summer of service in U.S., or international communities.

On Saturday, Gates said she met with about a dozen University Scholars and another dozen students who have participated in DukeEngage.

“Those students who have been in DukeEngage, and some of them were overlapping a bit in both groups, they’ve seen things in the world that most college students don’t see,” Gates said. “One had been to China, one had been working in Calcutta, and one had been working down in Mexico, and they’re now thinking about the world in a different way.”

More than 2,400 students have volunteered through DukeEngage in nearly 70 nations on six continents through 2012.

Gates said that she thought establishing the program was “super important” because of the compelling exposure it gives students to the problems of the world.

“I think when you see the problems of the world up close, it’s very hard to turn your back on them,” Gates said.

She noted that she and her husband were involved in service programs while growing up.

“That stays with you, and no matter what path you take through life, you go and have a different career, you have a family, whatever you go and do, as long as you keep that light alive, I think these students will figure out a way to give something back,” Gates said.

Noting the differences between today’s students and those on campus when she was a student and even during her service on the university’s Board of Trustees, Gates said, today’s students are more interdisciplinary.

“I see them much more engaged as world citizens, both because of things like the internet and mobile phones, but also because, at least the students I meet with, they’re not thinking about just their one program, they’re thinking about how this weaves into other programs across the campus,” Gage said.

In addition to helping to launch Duke Engage, the foundation, in 2007, donated $10 million to Duke for financial aid to undergraduate and business students.

And prior to that, the Gateses, through the William H. Gates Foundation, donated $20 million to the Duke to create the University Scholars Program to provide scholarships to deserving students. 

In 2002, the foundation handed over $35 million for the French Family Science Center, which houses research laboratories for biology and chemistry and is named in honor of Melinda Gates’ family. It also awarded more than $46 million to two Duke researchers working to develop an HIV vaccine.