bill gates
Microsoft’s Bill Gates Named Keynote Speaker For NAU Graduation

May 12, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Microsoft founder Bill Gates will deliver the keynote speech for this year’s Northern Arizona University (NAU) graduation.

Gates will deliver the keynote address on Saturday during NAU’s 3 pm ceremony for the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences as well as the College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Science. NAU will also award Gates with an honorary doctorate.

NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera said in a press release that Gates was a thought leader that exemplified NAU values. 

“It is our privilege to recognize Bill Gates for his pioneering work in science and technology and his long standing thought leadership and philanthropic commitment to creating a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy life and live up to their full potential,” said Cruz Rivera. 

Gates has advanced and pioneered on several progressive initiatives in science and technology. Most recently, Gates shared with ABC News that he would like the country to rely mainly on nuclear energy in the future to achieve energy independence. Gates also believed that artificial intelligence (AI) should be advanced most for use in health and education.

In recent decades, Gates has also bankrolled efforts to normalize the consumption of bugs or lab-grown meats as an alternative to meat.

Last year, Politico revealed that Gates had helped orchestrate the global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gates’ philanthropy — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest in the world — identified vaccine developers and invested in each step of the vaccine development process. His organization also played a role in a global distribution plan for the shots.

In his statement, Cruz Rivera also expressed gratitude that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided significant financial support to the university.

“As NAU advances its mission to deliver equitable postsecondary value, we are honored to have the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as we seek to ensure that the talent and aspirations of people in Arizona and beyond are met with the opportunity to realize economic mobility and social impact—shaping a brighter future for themselves and the communities they represent,” said Cruz Rivera.

Gates’ organization donated just over $500,000 to NAU last October for expanding equity.

On Tuesday, Gates wrote in his blog that he agreed to give a commencement speech at NAU because he believed NAU was “redefining the value of a college degree.” Gates dismissed the traditional notion that the more prestigious and exclusive schools were, the more valuable the degree. Gates said that accessibility, affordability, and economic mobility were better metrics to determine the value of a college’s degree, and declared that NAU was an “emerging leader” by that standard.

NAU had a 57 percent six-year graduation rate as of the latest Arizona Board of Regents data from 2021. Last summer, NAU didn’t rank within the top 100 of the nation’s best universities. They ranked 288.

Gates commended NAU’s achievements in diversity, equity, and inclusion: he praised the fact that nearly half of all NAU’s 30,000 students were “people of color,” mainly Hispanic or Native American, as well as the fact that many were first-generation college students or from low-income families.

Gates commended NAU’s equity-based financial aid structure favoring Native Americans from Arizona tribes over other races.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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