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Bill Gates - Lakeside School

September 23, 2005
Remarks by Bill Gates, co-chair

Thank you, Jenny, for that kind introduction—and thank you everyone for the warm welcome.

It’s great to be back. I never imagined that anyone would ever cheer for me on a Lakeside athletic field.

I almost didn’t make it here tonight—because I nearly didn’t make it to Lakeside at all.

You see, when I was in 6th grade, and my mom and dad suggested I go to Lakeside, I wasn’t too sure about it. In those days, Lakeside was an all-boys school where you wore a jacket and tie, called your teachers "master," and went to chapel every morning. For a while, I even thought about failing the entrance exam.

But I decided to do as well as I could on the test, and luckily, I got in. Now I’m finally prepared to say what no son ever wants to say, especially in public: "Dad, you and Mom were right."

Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I'm happy to be here to say a few words about my time at Lakeside, and why it’s so important to support the vision that Lakeside's faculty, staff, and alumni have spent the past five years developing.

One reason I'm so grateful to Lakeside is that I can directly trace the founding of Microsoft back to my earliest days here.

When I came here as a 7th grader in the late 1960s, there were a number of faculty members who worked together to get a computer terminal on the campus.

Of course, computers were totally new to everyone here—faculty as well as students. In one early development, one of the teachers burned up 200 dollars of computer time in a few minutes by accidentally running an infinite loop.

That made computers seem pretty scary to some people here—especially when 13-year-old kids were eager to try their luck next.

The school could have shut down the terminal, or they could have tightly regulated who got to use it. Instead, they opened it up. Instead of teaching us about computers in the conventional sense, Lakeside just unleashed us. 

The experience and insight Paul Allen and I gained here gave us the confidence to start a company based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with—that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home. 

As a result of the success of Microsoft, my wife, Melinda, and I have been able to get involved in philanthropy.

Naturally, one of the impulses of philanthropy is a desire to help provide opportunities for people. One of the ways our foundation is doing that is by helping more people here in America get the benefits of higher education.

Unfortunately, too many high schools are not graduating students who are prepared to do well in college. So we have invested nearly a billion dollars to re-design high schools around the country to help create an environment where students achieve at a higher level and never fall through the cracks.

What does this have to do with Lakeside? Our foundation’s work in high schools is based on principles that happen to be deeply ingrained in Lakeside's culture. We call them the new three R's—the basic building blocks of better high schools.

  • The first R is Rigor – making sure all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work;
  • The second R is Relevance – making sure kids have courses and projects that clearly relate to their lives and their goals;
  • The third R is Relationships – making sure kids have a number of adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve.

When I first heard theories of school reform based on these principles, they made intuitive sense to me. They are what make Lakeside a phenomenal school.

Rigor absolutely defined my Lakeside experience. Lakeside had the kind of teachers who would come to me, even when I was getting straight A's, and say: "When are you going to start applying yourself?"

Teachers like Ann Stephens. I was in her English class, and I read every book in there twice. But I sat in the back of the room and never raised my hand.

One day, she said: "Bill, you're just coasting. Here are my ten favorite books; read these. Here's my college thesis; you should read it." She challenged me to do more. I never would have come to enjoy literature as much as I do if she hadn’t pushed me.

I had the world's greatest chemistry teacher in Daniel Morris. He gave me a hard time and told me that I was just getting by in terms of what I understood about chemistry.

I always did well in analytical chemistry, but I hated all those pipettes and test tubes in the lab. He knew that, and he still managed to get me into the lab to do experiments—and I had a much better understanding because of it.

I can trace a lot of my love of science to the demands he put on me to really try to understand chemistry. 

Relevance also was a big part of my Lakeside education. The most common image of a bad education is a sullen kid, slumped in a desk saying: "When am I ever going to use this?"

The teachers here did everything to make their lessons matter. For me, of course, the clearest example of relevance was computers.

Years before other schools recognized the importance of computers, the Lakeside Mothers Club came up with the money to buy a teletype that connected over the phone lines with a GE time-sharing computer.

Computer time was so expensive that it really added to the tension of that room in McAlister Hall.

You had to type up your program off-line and create this paper tape—and then you would dial up the computer and get on, and get the paper in there, and while you were programming, everybody would crowd around, shouting: "Hey, you made a typing mistake." "Hey, you messed this up!" "Hey, you’re taking too much time."

Once in a while, when we got stuck on a problem, Paul Allen would turn to me and say: "If you think you're so smart, you figure this out." And I would take those manuals home and read them page by page, over and over.

Of course, a whole new dimension of relevance came when I was asked to do a computerized class schedule for the high school.

It was complex, but ultimately very rewarding. By the time I was done, I found that I had no classes at all on Fridays. And even better, there was a disproportionate number of interesting girls in all my classes.

Now that"s relevance!

Finally, I had great relationships with my teachers here at Lakeside.

Classes were small. You got to know the teachers. They got to know you. And the relationships that come from that really make a difference. If you like and respect your teacher, you"re going to work harder. 

Gary Maestretti really inspired me to learn physics. Fred Wright really inspired me to learn math, and was a great mentor in the computer room in McAllister Hall.

Ann Stephens got me to sign up for drama. I didn't have to do drama. I didn't have a lot of skill in that. But she had built a strong relationship with me, and she made me want to give it a try.

She gave me the lead in a romantic comedy that I still know all the lines to. The only downside is that I invited my co-star to our real-life prom, and she turned me down. She's here tonight, and I want her to know: I recently got over it.

Rigor, relevance, and relationships are what made my time at Lakeside so extraordinary. Through our foundation, we're now trying to bring these core principles to public schools across the country.

So Lakeside is—in a sense—supporting our philanthropy. But it’s also important that our philanthropy support Lakeside.

There are numerous approaches to charitable giving. One is to try to give others the same opportunities you had. Another is to help the institutions that helped you. A third approach is to identify needs and help address them.

I support Lakeside from all three points of view. I want as many students as possible, from as many different backgrounds as possible, to enjoy a Lakeside education.

So I think it’s important to put the financial aid program at Lakeside on such a solid footing that money will never be a reason for denying a Lakeside education to a promising student. If we have strong financial aid, we’ll be able to attract the best talent and the greatest diversity—and both are essential to a top education in the 21st century.

I also support Lakeside out of simple personal gratitude.

Lakeside introduced me to computers. They allowed me to teach a class in computers. They hired me to write a scheduling program.  

It didn’t have to work that way. They could have hired an outside computer expert to do the scheduling system. Teachers could have insisted that they teach classes on computing, simply because they were the teachers and we were the students.

But they didn't. If there had been no Lakeside, there would have been no Microsoft. And I’m here to say thank you.

Finally, I support Lakeside because I see a deep need for leadership in the world, and I believe Lakeside can help provide it.

I’m really excited about the Global Service Learning Program, which will send Lakeside students on extended trips to developing countries to learn about the people and the issues they face.

I am convinced that after these trips, the students will be transformed. And so will the school—once Lakesiders come back to campus and inform the discussions here with what they heard and saw.

Some of the worst human tragedies happening in the world today go on because we don't really see them. We rarely make eye contact with people who are suffering—so we act sometimes as if the people don't exist and the suffering isn’t happening.

When the images of the people trapped in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina hit the 24-hour cable news stations, the public demanded instant government action to help them—and businesses, foundations, churches, and citizens all stepped in as well.

I believe if we could get the same kind of visibility for health problems around the world, so that rich people saw millions of impoverished mothers burying babies who died from causes we can prevent—we would insist that something be done, and we would be willing to pay for it.
 
But right now, we don't really see the inequities that keep people around the world sick and poor. We need to see what’s happening—only then will we stop ignoring our neighbors and start helping them.

Some argue we need to do it for economic reasons or national security reasons. I think we need to do it for humanitarian reasons. People are hurting, and we can help them, and that ought to be enough.

The academic excellence Lakeside is known for—combined with a focus on global citizenship—can inspire Lakeside graduates to build the kind of institutions that make the world a smaller place, get science to move forward more quickly, and make sure our discoveries are used for human benefit.

I’m an optimist about the future, and I'm a huge fan of this school. That's why I'm supporting Lakeside, and I want to encourage others to do the same.

With our support—Lakeside can shape a new generation of leaders to help change the world. Let’s help them do it.

Thank you very much.

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