In keeping with our focus on inspiration and greatness, we promised to bring you some stirring content in the next few weeks, taken from admissions speeches at some of the world’s greatest universities.

Bill and Melinda Gates addressed Stanford’s class of 2014, with a speech that focused on the importance of optimism and empathy as a way to achieve greatness.

“When we strip away our luck and privilege and consider where we would be without them, it is easier to see someone who is poor and sick and say, ‘that could be me’. This is empathy; it tears down barriers and opens up new frontiers for optimism,” Bill Gates reflected.

The couple spoke about how their ideas around optimism have evolved over their respective journeys – alone and together. Gates spent some time talking about his first visit to Soweto, which irrevocably changed his views on poverty. He also mentioned the horrors of encountering Multi Drug Resistant TB and HIV patients in South Africa. He described some South African hospitals as “hell, with a waiting list” and said that even seeing hell did not reduce his optimism. In fact, it helped him to channel it, to push harder with the doctors he was working with to find a way to help these patients. Gates pointed out that “optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness.”

His wife, Melinda said that if you want to do the most, you have to see the worst.

You may be wondering how these descriptions of desperation can be attributed in any way to optimism, or inspiration. In describing the worst scenarios they could, they argued that they were making a better case for the power of optimism and the value that innovation can bring to the world.

Innovation and optimism without empathy doesn’t matter, they said. We can solve all the secrets of science but, without empathy, do nothing to change the world. The new generation of graduates (or trainee accountants, in your case) will lead a wave of innovation that they can apply to the world – but only by making their views of the world wider will they be able to create the future we all want.

“Let your heart break. It will change what you do with your optimism,” Melinda concluded

Epic Discussion

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