Melinda Gates Named 2013 Commencement Speaker

Commencement exercises will be Sunday, May 12, 2013

Philanthropist and businesswoman Melinda Gates, speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012.

Philanthropist and businesswoman Melinda Gates will deliver the commencement address at Duke University, her alma mater, on Sunday, May 12, 2013.

Commencement exercises will begin at 10 a.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium and are open to the public.

"I can't think of a more inspiring way to send our students forth to their careers than to have Melinda Gates speak at our commencement," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "A double Duke graduate, she gives us a shining example of the difference a compassionate advocate can make in the world."

Gates earned her bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke in 1986, followed by a master's degree in business administration from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in 1987. She served on Duke's Board of Trustees from 1996-2003.

Gates, the wife of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, joined Microsoft in 1987 and became a leader in developing many of Microsoft's multimedia products. She retired in 1996 from her position as Microsoft's general manager of information products.

Since then, Gates has directed her energy toward the nonprofit world. She is co-chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she works to advance the foundation's goal of ensuring that every person has a chance to live a healthy, productive life. Since its founding in 1994, the foundation has awarded more than $26 billion in grants to programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and in more than 100 countries.

"I am very excited and honored about the opportunity to deliver the commencement address at Duke University," said Melinda Gates. "The education I received at Duke has always inspired and motivated my philanthropic work, and I hope to share that sense of optimism and the rigor needed to pursue ambitious goals with this generation of students."

In recognition of her philanthropic work, Foreign Policy magazine named her, along with her husband Bill, as two of their 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2012.

"She is one of the quintessential Duke alums we look up to," said Senior Class President Elysia Pan. "We're so excited to hear more about her life after Duke. It will be a really electrifying moment."

Pan said Gates is a particularly good choice to speak to the class of 2013, a group of students which has embraced service and volunteerism through DukeEngage, the program the Gates Foundation helped create in 2007.

"Our class is very active, very passionate," Pan said. "A lot of my classmates have participated in DukeEngage, going all over the world and benefitting from the program she helped create."

"The Gateses really have changed the game in philanthropy," added Bill Hunt, president of Duke's Graduate and Professional Student Council. "Melinda Gates' achievements as a philanthropist are unparalleled. She has an amazing body of work to her credit."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported a number of strategic priorities at Duke. In 2007, the foundation joined with The Duke Endowment to establish a $30 million endowment to launch DukeEngage, which has become one of the university's signature programs. DukeEngage provides full funding for select Duke undergraduates to pursue an immersive summer of service in partnership with a U.S. or international community. As of summer 2012, more than 2,000 Duke students have volunteered through DukeEngage in nearly 70 nations on six continents.

Also in 2007, the foundation donated $10 million to Duke for financial aid to undergraduates and business school students.

And prior to that, in 1998, a $20 million gift from the Gateses, through the William H. Gates Foundation, created the University Scholars Program, which provides a full scholarship to financially deserving Duke students each year. The students who are selected represent a range of personal and intellectual backgrounds and share an excitement for original research, collaborative thinking and innovative scholarship.

Other foundation support of Duke has focused on science and research, including a $35 million gift in 2002 for the French Family Science Center, a 280,000-square-foot home to state-of-the-art research laboratories for chemistry and biology that is named for Melinda Gates' family. [A video of her remarks at the facility's dedication ceremony is available at]

In 2006, the foundation awarded grants totaling $46.5 million to Duke researchers Dr. Barton Haynes, MD, and David Montefiori, Ph.D., for development of an HIV vaccine. Haynes is a national leader in AIDS/HIV research and director of the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI), as well as director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute; Montefiori is a professor of surgery and director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development in the Duke Department of Surgery. Both men have since received additional grants from the foundation.

In addition to her role with the foundation, Melinda Gates is a former co-chair of the Washington State Governor's Commission on Early Learning.

More details about commencement are available at

Below: Melinda Gates at a maternal and newborn health clinic in India in 2010.

Melinda Gates in at a maternal and newborn health clinic in India