On Oct. 2, Bill Gates ’73 addressed the Lakeside community in two packed events, speaking about the transformative experience of his own Lakeside education, the role of the liberal arts in an increasingly specialized society, and the challenges and opportunities today’s students will encounter in the coming decades.
Gates delivered the Dan Ayrault Memorial Endowed Lecture, helping kick off Lakeside’s centennial. During the afternoon, he addressed Upper and Middle school students, faculty, and staff before the formal evening program attended by Lakeside alumni, parents and guardians, and students.
The Dan Ayrault Memorial Endowed Lecture honors the memory and the passion for education of Dan Ayrault, head of school from 1969 to 1990. Ayrault served as headmaster during Gates’s time. This appearance was a return to the Lakeside podium for Gates: he delivered the inaugural Ayrault Lecture back in the spring of 1995.
At an all-school assembly in The Paul G. Allen Athletics Center, Gates spoke about his experience at Lakeside, commenting on the many differences between his time at the school and today’s focus on “diversity, global education, and embrace of online learning.” He recalled his awkwardness around girls, his aversion to athletics, and his obsession with the school’s new teletype machine, which allowed him and a small cadre of classmates to explore the new world of computing. He said, “My entire career — including Microsoft — got its start at Lakeside… We all can say we’re lucky to be part of Lakeside. I hope you’ll all take advantage of the incredible resources that you get from this school.”
Senior Elda K. joined Gates on stage and moderated a question-and-answer session. She asked him about leadership, lifelong learning, and his experience with failure. Gates highlighted the challenge of global inequality and the work of the Gates Foundation on education and healthcare issues. He named Microsoft’s antitrust case as a personal learning experience, noting, “It accelerated my moving into the philanthropic space, where there are lots of failures because we take on such difficult problems.”
Students in the audience asked a series of thoughtful questions, covering topics ranging from Gates’s friendship with Warren Buffet and the challenges of founding Microsoft to global GDP and healthcare convergence. When asked by Allise T. ’21 what individuals can do to make a positive impact, Gates advised, “Pick something that engages you — that’s where you will get a world-class performance…. And for everyone, having a voice in the democracy has to be part of your tool kit.”
Following the all-school assembly, Gates met with a much smaller group of students in Kent Evans auditorium, including those in Devin Parry’s Molecular and Cellular Biology class. In an hour-long conversation, Gates talked about how genetic engineering is being used to tackle problems such as mosquito-born malaria and low crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa — and about the controversies surrounding GMOs that have tarnished their reputation in the developed world. When asked about what Lakeside’s students should study in college to have an impact on important issues, Gates listed the three fields that most excite him right now. Biology, energy science, and computer science.
After the class, he met with the two current editors-in-chief of Tatler, the school’s student newspaper, for a conversation and interview.
In the evening, Gates delivered remarks to the broader community. He reflected on times of great change in the school’s history: the move to north Seattle in the 1930s, the end to the boarding program in the 1960s, coeducation in the 1970s, the technology and diversity work in the 2000s, and Lakeside’s current re-envisioning.
Gates then sat down with Head of School Bernie Noe, who recounted questions that students had asked during the day, before opening questions to the audience.