Bill Gates spoke at the commencement ceremony for Northern Arizona University last weekend, where he doled out life advice to soon-to-be graduates about preparing for work-life balance in the “real world.”
The May 13th speech was creatively crafted as the advice he wished he had been given had he not dropped out of college, aptly titled, “5 Things I Wish I Heard at the Graduation I Never Had.”
The billionaire, who enrolled in Harvard in 1973 and dropped out in 1975, delivered a hard-hitting life lesson to college seniors about work ethic: Take a break!
“When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends. I pushed everyone around me to work very long hours,” Gates told the crowd, noting that in the earliest days of founding Microsoft, he would take note of which employees were working the longest hours daily. “But 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. Take time to nurture your relationships, to celebrate your successes, and to recover from your losses.”
Gates’s net worth was valued at an estimated $125 billion as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Microsoft founder has faced personal challenges recently amid a divorce from his wife of 27 years, Melinda French Gates, and coming to terms with empty nesting, something he mused about in an essay on his blog in December 2021.
“The house is a lot quieter without a bunch of teenagers hanging around all the time,” he wrote at the time. “I miss having them at home, even if it is easier to focus on reading a book or getting work done these days.”
In the commencement speech, Gates urged grads to “have fun” and to “take it easy on the people around you when they need it, too.”
The message was similar in ideology to a 2007 commencement speech he gave at Harvard University, where he explained how his greatest accomplishment during his time at school wasn’t the final product or the amount of hard work he put in, but rather the environment that fostered him to succeed.
“I worked day and night on this little extra credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of a remarkable journey with Microsoft. What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence,” he said. “It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege – and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on.”
You can read the full transcript of Gates’ speech to graduates here.