Bill and Melinda Gates answered “10 tough questions” in their annual letter, released Tuesday morning. Later in the day, they answered even more questions by taking part in a Facebook live video chat along with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, playwright and actor known for creating the Broadway hit musical “Hamilton.”
In the event from Hunter College in New York, the Gateses were helping Miranda raise money for the Hispanic Federation, a non-profit organization working to provide relief in Puerto Rico, months after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria.
The Gateses and Miranda answered a range of questions from students in the audience and from those following along on Facebook. Even Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social media platform being used Tuesday, weighed in with a question of his own.
If you could ask Melinda and me anything, what would you want to know? We’ll answer a few of your questions live with Lin-Manuel Miranda at Hunter College.
Posted by Bill Gates on Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Hunter College President Jennifer Raab introduced the Gateses and Miranda, who is an alumnus of the school in Manhattan.
“Optimism infuses everything we do at Hunter, the place that keeps making the American dream come true,” Raab said, drawing on a consistent Gates theme, that the world is getting better despite the perception that an endless stream of depressing headlines signals otherwise.
Raab invoked the Hunter motto — Mihi cura futuri (The care of the future is mine) — as the Gateses took the stage. “I can think of no better role models than the two of you … you are an inspiration to us all,” she said.
Miranda called being with the billionaire philanthropists “very surreal,” because the last time he was on the Hunter stage he was getting his diploma. He kept the conversation light at times — rapping lines from his 1999 musical “In the Heights,” for instance — while also serving as moderator on inquiries ranging from global access to contraception, the rise of artificial intelligence, the decline in childhood deaths, and the need for more women in computer science.
“OK, I’ll ask the first question,” Miranda said. “You guys are leaders in philanthropy and solving problems, some of the hardest problems all over the world. I come up with rhymes for Aaron Burr. What am I doing here, and why did you want me to host?”
Melinda Gates said it starts with the fact that the couple are huge fans of Miranda’s work. In fact, for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday the Gateses will be back in Seattle and are planning to see “Hamilton” with three other couples. The musical is currently at the Paramount Theater.
Over the course of the hour-long discussion, the Gateses touched on a number of the things that were raised in their annual letter. Miranda asked them to convince those in attendance and watching the stream — who don’t necessarily share their enthusiasm and optimism — that the world is getting better.
“I open Twitter with my hands covering my eyes every morning,” Miranda said.
Bill Gates focused on the reduction in the number of childhood deaths around the world as the biggest indicator that progress is being made. “The world should be proud,” he said.
“The news-grabbing, attention-grabbing headlines are about all the things that are terrible in the world,” Melinda Gates said. “But the progress is palpable, people are lifting themselves out of poverty.”
Other highlights included:
- Bill Gates explained why he dropped out of Harvard University after three years, because he had fallen in love with computing and was convinced he and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen could write great software for personal computers. “I was a little worried the computer revolution would start without me.”
- “Are you who you wanted to be growing up? Are you the change in this world that you want to see?” an audience member asked. Miranda joked that his goal was to meet Weird Al Yankovic … “and I’ve met him!” Melinda Gates replied that she had not yet met the comic singer.
- After a question about the #MeToo movement, Melinda Gates said she is encouraged to see women stepping forward, not just to share their stories, but to run for office and take leadership roles. “I think we have an opportunity to create a 21st century workforce that works for men and women.”
- After Melinda Gates explained at length what the couple learns from disagreeing with one another, and how they reach consensus and act as a united front in public, Bill Gates said he agreed with everything his wife just said.
- A student in the audience said she once had a project in elementary school centered around being able to ask Bill Gates one thing. She said as a kid she would have asked Gates for 5 bucks. But when given the chance on Tuesday, she asked how poor students and students of color in particular can better communicate their immediate needs to educational philanthropic organizations. And which of those voices were heard and why were they successful?
Along the way, Miranda more than once expressed his fear of the robotic dog from Boston Dynamics which can apparently open doors now. They also talked about Trump administration policies and funding foreign aid, as well as the importance of an arts education alongside math and science.
The fact that Zuckerberg was paying attention and managed to get in a question drew a laugh from the audience. The Facebook CEO asked, “If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? Asking for a friend.”
Bill Gates said Zuckerberg is already doing amazing things in philanthropy and he said when he himself was younger he was naive about acquiring different skill sets, and relying on the notion that a high IQ meant he would be good at everything. Melinda Gates told Zuckerberg to trust himself, that he probably knows more than he thinks he does. “I wish somebody would have told me, I would have been a little less hard on myself,” she said.
At the conclusion of the event, Miranda said they’d covered a lot of topics and answered a lot of questions.
His last one, for the Gateses, was, “What question do you have for us?”
“I would say what are you doing, yourself, to make the world a better place?” Melinda Gates said. “How are you using your passion, your time, your energy, your brains your money? What can you do individually, what are you doing to make the world better?”