I applaud the graduates today for taking a much more direct
route to your degrees. For my part, I'm just happy that the Crimson has called
me "Harvard's most successful dropout." I guess that makes me
valedictorian of my own special class ... I did the best of everyone who
But I also want to be recognised as the guy who got Steve
Ballmer to drop out of business school. I'm a bad influence. That's why I was
invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer
of you might be here today.
Harvard was just a phenomenal experience for me. Academic
life was fascinating. I used to sit in on lots of classes I hadn't even signed
up for. And dorm life was terrific. I lived up at Radcliffe, in Currier House.
There were always lots of people in my dorm room late at night discussing things,
because everyone knew I didn't worry about getting up in the morning. That's
how I came to be the leader of the anti-social group. We clung to each other as
a way of validating our rejection of all those social people.
Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were science-math types. That combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean. This is where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn't guarantee success.
One of my biggest memories of Harvard came in January 1975, when I made a call from Currier House to a company in Albuquerque that had begun making the world's first personal computers. I offered to sell them software
I worried that they would realise I was just a student in
a dorm and hang up on me. Instead they said: "We're not quite ready, come
see us in a month," which was a good thing, because we hadn't written the
software yet. From that moment, I worked day and night on this little extra
credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of
a remarkable journey with Microsoft.
What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much
energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes
even discouraging, but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege
- and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the
friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on.