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Famous Harvard Dropout Bill Gates Finally Gets An (Honorary) Diploma

The richest college dropout on the planet will finally get his Harvard degree in June when the university awards him an honorary degree.

W. David Gardner

March 23, 2007

2 Min Read

After using a time-shared computer at Harvard University's Computation Lab to develop the first Basic program for a microcomputer, Bill Gates dropped out of school. The richest college dropout on the planet will finally get his Harvard degree in June when the university awards him an honorary degree.

Gates will be the principal speaker at the school's 356th commencement ceremony in June.

Gates' Harvard College Class of 1977 will celebrate its 30th anniversary at the commencement and the dropout has clearly been the most financially successful member of that class. In fact, Gates is the most financially successful person in the entire world, according to Forbes, which this week said Gates was worth $56 billion.

"With a foresighted vision of the immense future potential of desktop computing," Harvard said in its commencement announcement, "Gates left Harvard during his junior year to devote himself to building Microsoft, the company he and [Paul] Allen founded in 1975." Allen, then working at Honeywell in suburban Boston, and Gates wrote their celebrated Basic program on a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-10. Allen flew the program to a start-up microcomputer hardware company called MITS in New Mexico and the rest, as the say, was history.

Gates has been a generous benefactor to Harvard. He and his Harvard classmate Steve Ballmer, now Microsoft's chief executive, financed Harvard's $25 million electrical engineering and computer science facility, the Maxwell Dworkin Building, which was named for their mothers, Mary Maxwell Gates and Beatrice Dworkin Ballmer.

In addition, Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, have supported various Harvard endeavors including the university's Medical School, its School of Public Health, and the Nieman Foundation, Harvard's graduate journalism program.

In making the announcement, Harvard cited the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is devoting a growing share of its grants to improving global medical health.

"His contributions to the world of business and technology, and the great example he has set through his far-reaching philanthropy, will rightfully put him on center stage in Harvard Yard," said Paul Finnegan, president of the Harvard Alumni Association, in a statement.

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