Skip to main content

Bill Gates: ‘5 Things I Wish I Was Told At The Graduation I Never Had’

By May 18, 2023April 19th, 2024RETS Blog

By:  Jana Turner

As an alumni of Northern Arizona University, it’s a great day to be a Lumberjack! This year Bill Gates received an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University (NAU), officially joining the Lumberjack network. He delivered a commencement speech at NAU, being previously recognized for his speeches at Harvard and Stanford. As one of the most successful college dropouts in modern history, here are some quick takeaways and my insights on the advice he gave to the new class of graduating students:

  1. “What you do tomorrow, or for the next 10 years, does not have to be what you do forever. Not only is it OK to change your mind or have a second career…it can be a very good thing.”

Gates is infamously known as a college drop out who executed the formation of the acclaimed company, Microsoft. However in his speech, he indicated the shift in his passions from working in programming then, to focusing on philanthropy now. 

My Insight: Despite the change in Gates’ interests, there was always room to change his path no matter how deep he was into his career. This can be reflective to the many new graduates who are still discovering their careers. It’s okay to not know exactly which path you want to chase. It can change as you develop new experiences or maybe it won’t. Nevertheless, life is about exploring your everchanging interests with no fear. 

     2. “You are never too smart to be confused. Everything I have accomplished happened because I sought out others who knew more than me.”

In his address to the graduating class, Gates urged them to embrace what they don’t know and to actively seek assistance and counsel from others, just as he had done throughout his professional journey. 

My Insight:  To develop and progress, one must engage in continuous learning. As graduates enter the reality of the workforce, they should embrace the courage to ask questions. If anyone degrades you for seeking answers, it’s a clear indication to steer clear of them.

     3. “When you spend your days doing something that solves a big problem, it energizes you to work. It forces you to be more creative and it gives your life a stronger sense of purpose.”

Gates emphasizes the value of solving a problem and the immense opportunities we have right now to fuel it by helping people. As he discussed the progress made in various industries, Gates conveyed a sense of hope, expressing confidence in the audience’s capacity to leverage these advancements in order to bring about transformative change in the world. 

My Insight: We all have the chance to pursue our passions and make a meaningful difference. However, the majority of people find themselves in fields that don’t align with their perception of a ‘big problem’. Therefore, the objective is to identify your unique area of expertise, or niche, because once you do, nothing can stop you from succeeding.

     4. “The only thing more valuable than what you walk offstage with is who you walk onstage with.”

Highlighting a significant aspect of Gates’ personal journey, he offered guidance to the graduating students, emphasizing the profound influence of friendship. Gates shared his own experience of meeting his best friend, Paul Allen, during their school days. Initially connecting through their mutual passion for science fiction and computers, Gates recounted how their friendship eventually led them to collaborate and establish Microsoft. 

My Insight:  The the power of friendship, can lead you to unopened doors and future experiences that could never be achieved alone. A support system is also crucial to navigate the ups and downs of life, providing a safe haven where you are accepted and understood unconditionally. It brings joy, laughter, and a profound sense of happiness. Friendship means everything so make sure you don’t forget about it.

     5. “You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack…as I got older, and especially once I became a father, I realized there is more to life than work. Don’t wait as long as I did to learn this lesson.”

Concluding his remarks, Gates delivered a reminder about the significance of relaxation alongside diligent effort. Reflecting on his own past, Gates recollected the workaholic tendencies that defined his early years at Microsoft. During that time, he acknowledged placing work above everything else and imposing similar expectations on those around him.

My Insight: Work will satisfy only a small portion of your life. There are so many different aspects that mean so much more; so stop putting them aside and ENJOY the life you’ve worked so hard to obtain.

Although Gates’ advice was geared towards new grads, it can be applied to just about anyone reading, hearing, or watching his speech. In fact, it was a great reminder for me to value my own time, energy, and interests. So thank you Bill Gates, for the refreshing life lessons and unique perspective on our world. Go Lumberjacks forever!

Jana Turner serves as a Principal at RETS Associates, a national real estate executive search firm. She can be reached at

The RETS Team brings a deep, strategic understanding of the real estate industry to your recruitment needs. Click here for more insights & tips.