Not many days of mine begin at 4am. As a full-time masters student doing her thesis, days begin when they begin, usually before noon but that is also negotiable. But on Monday, March 31st (a Monday even!) I woke up incredibly early to get ready to chaperone Dr. Bill Gates around my campus. Saying I was excited and nervous and full of anticipation is such an understatement; I could barely sleep the night before!!
Now I know you’re not used to hearing “doctor” before his name but this is due to a bit of school pride. Karolinska Institutet gave Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, honorary doctorates in 2008 and so as Hans Rosling affectionately said, “at KI, you are Dr. Bill Gates.”
I dragged my tired eyes out of bed and headed to campus for the morning meeting where I was a part of a team of Karolinska staff and student ambassadors (students that represent the school and help out at events). As a Digital Ambassador and a Masters of Global Health student, I was asked to lead this famous man around the day’s activities and I could not have been more honoured.
Time has a funny way of moving extra quickly when you are least expecting it to so in what felt like no time at all, people started filing into the auditorium and I anxiously waited in the lobby for one of the biggest advocates for global health of this century to arrive. Another global health advocate and personal hero, Dr. Hans Rosling, was giving the introductory speech in the auditorium at this time. Imagine my excitement and luck to meet both of my global health heroes in the same day, sharing the same stage, halfway around the world from where I had admired them…I was in global health heaven!
The events of the day were unrolling in the auditorium as I was downstairs, being told that Bill Gates was pulling up to the university. The doors of his vehicle opened and out stepped the man of the hour. Our wonderful Chancellor and Provost Chancellor stepped forward to welcome Dr. Gates to our university and then it was my turn to step forward to shake his hand. I was thankful it was a bit chilly outside so my shaky hands could be attributed to the cold and not my utter nervousness of being face to face with a hero of mine. But to be honest, I shouldn’t have been nervous. This man that we have seen, followed, and revered for decades was standing in front of me smiling and unassuming, what everyone hopes a man in the media is like in real life.
I led him and his team to the green room, then down to the auditorium with the other panelists for the main event and then around to afternoon meetings and interviews, where it was an absolute pleasure to be a fly on the wall.
I can’t say I remember much of these events as it has all blurred together in my mind, it was a whirlwind of a day. I also can’t say that I flung myself onto him and asked him his opinion on every global health topic under the sun (even if I had wanted to!) because while I was leading him and his team around to meetings after his presentation, I felt this man could use some peace. He had such a presence in a room; everyone either wanted his attention or stood back to let him impart his wisdom. I wanted to be useful and polite and perhaps a bit invisible, don’t we all deserve a few moments in a day where we aren’t being asked something? I did however, mention how we shared the same fascination with rotavirus, the disease that got the Gates Foundation involved in global health. He was happy that I had studied it. We shared the same joy in its vaccine development that has significantly reduced the number of diarrheal deaths in children less than five years of age in the past few years. Rotavirus and a rural community vaccination campaign was the subject I did my undergraduate thesis on and I felt such a sense of pride when he mentioned on stage that this is the issue that started the flame for his involvement in global health. I share the same starting point in global health as Bill Gates. That sentiment is going to stick around for a while…
*All of the days events can be found in video format online at http://ki.se/en/bill-gates-meets-hans-rosling-at-ki
-Caity, global health