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Gates Sr. urges students to ‘Show up’

September 22, 2009

Bill Gates Sr. urges students to ‘Show up’

Bill Gates Sr., the father of Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, told a packed audience in Lagerquist Hall Tuesday night that the number one quality students can cultivate is “to be concerned.“Not necessarily about everything, but be concerned about things that are unacceptable in this world, whether it be down the street, or in the middle of Africa,” said Gates.

At 83, Gates is working full-time as the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and serves as the advocate for the foundation’s key issues, which includes education and world health, with a particular focus on HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention.

Tuesday night, Gates spoke on campus about his new book, “Showing up for Life, Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime.” In small vignettes, Gates discusses lessons learned growing up in Bremerton, Wash., serving in WWII, getting his law degree, marrying, raising a family, and now of course, being father to one of the most recognizable men in the world and helping run his son’s $30 billion foundation.

But the questions Gates fielded during an hour-long talk with three PLU student moderators didn’t focus on his famous son, but more on his views on education, involvement in the world, as well as what Gates feels is important for college students to focus on now.

Time and time again, Gates urged PLU students to get involved with issues, either local or abroad and devote time and passion to a cause. In other words, “Show up.

“I think there is wisdom in the phrase ‘We are all in this together,’” he said.

Gates praised PLU for its global focus, and indicated the university was a leader in the general trend in the U.S. to look outward to solve issues such as hunger, HIV or global warming. It’s important for students to travel overseas, rather than just read about a place on a map, he said.

“Once you’re there,” he said. “You see we’re all the same, and that has a significant influence on global equity.”

It’s significant that countries such as the U.S. and China are finally meeting at the table to discuss carbon emissions, he said. The talks and interest are “unprecedented,” he said. And Gates categorized global warming as “clearly a fundamental threat to our progeny.”

Not all the conversation was dedicated to weighty global issues.

Gates did talk about the changing views of women, even from generation to generation in his own family. His sister, Merridy, who was seven years older than Gates, was not allowed to go to college or even learn how to drive by mandate of Gates Sr.’s father, who was also named Bill Gates. But when Gates turned 16, Merridy spent $85 out of her own account to buy a 1930 Model A Ford for her brother, complete with rumble seat.

Gates Sr. said he has never forgotten that act of “radical generosity.”

“So much of what we learn is what others do for us,” he said in learning generosity and how to give.

Obviously, by the time Gates had two daughters of his own, Kristi and Libby, there was no question or even discussion – of course they were going to college, he said.

In the book, Gates recalled his son, Trey, being curious about everything, and sneaking off with Paul Allen to spend all night working on computers or working for a company that was paying the pair to hack into their mainframe to test security. Then Gates and his wife, Mary Gates, would wonder why there son could barely get out of bed in the morning.

“Never forget that your children are always watching you and learning from you, so try hard to be the adult you want your kids to become, “ he wrote.” Becoming a truly competent parent might be the most important work you do.”

Finally, Gates Sr. urged college students to be extravagant in their enthusiasm and their commitment to causes during this time in their lives.

“There are so many things that deserve your attention” he said. “Fill your plate. Don’t’ be parsimonious in the things you show up for.”

Content Development Director Barbara Clements produced this report. Contact her at 253-535-7427 or for comments or more information.