Durham, N.C. — Philanthropist and businesswoman Melinda Gates will deliver the 2013 commencement address at Duke University next May, officials said Wednesday.
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 to 2003.
"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," Duke President Richard Brodhead said in a statement. "A double Duke graduate, she gives us a shining example of the difference a compassionate advocate can make in the world.”
The wife of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, she joined Microsoft in 1987 and became a leader in developing many of its multimedia products. She retired in 1996 as Microsoft’s general manager of information products.
Since then, Melinda 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 across the U.S. and in more than 100 countries.
The foundation has supported a number of strategic priorities at Duke.
In 2007, it joined with The Duke Endowment to establish a $30 million endowment to launch DukeEngage, which provides funding for undergraduates to pursue a summer of service in partnership with a U.S. or international community. As of this year, 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. In 1998, a $20 million gift from the William H. Gates Foundation created the University Scholars Program, which provides full scholarships to Duke students each year.
Other Gates 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 building for chemistry and biology laboratories that is named for Melinda Gates’ family. In 2006, the foundation awarded grants totaling $46.5 million to Duke researchers for development of an HIV vaccine.
“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,” Melinda Gates said in a statement.
Commencement exercises will begin at 10 a.m. May 12, 2013, at Wallace Wade Stadium and are open to the public.