Billionaire Bill Gates surprised Tennessee teenagers on Thursday as he walked on stage during an awards ceremony to praise the high school students' achievements.
The Microsoft co-founder visited Howard School in Chattanooga in his apparent first-ever visit to the southeastern Tennessee city.
"I understand this is the last day of school here, so congratulations on the end of the school year," Gates told a crowd of students, staff, parents and local officials, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "A special congratulations to the seniors who get to move on to new activities. I hope for all of you to find your passion and take advantage of many opportunities."
While Gates and his wife, Melinda, haven't traveled to the city before this week, the pair have reportedly donated more than $750,000 toward education in the area through The Gates Foundation — which has an endowment of about $50 billion — over the years. The city will find out if it was selected for another grant from the private foundation this summer, The Tennessean reported.
During his visit, Gates stressed the importance of a solid education.
"I think education is super special. Our foundation has been involved [in Tennessee], working in partnership to improve education," said Gates, per the Times Free Press.
The 63-year-old encouraged the students, particularly graduating seniors, to take advantage of any opportunities they are given. He also spoke about how his foundation can help contribute to a climb in high school graduation rates across the country.
"There's a lot of opportunities out there, so we're just trying to support people doing real work in education," he added.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who also attended the Thursday event, said he was "happy to welcome" the "legendary entrepreneur" to the "city of creators."
"So many great moments at the Howard High Awards Day," he gushed on Twitter afterward.
Teacher Judith Bruzon said it was an "amazing way to end the school year."
"I'm really shocked I was really glad to have met him even though not really personally but seeing him in person you know," eleventh-grader Darwin Reynoso told WTVC.