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Harvard honors richest dropout

A law degree is awarded to Bill Gates, who left as a junior decades ago.

June 08, 2007|From Reuters

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Bill Gates attended to a bit of unfinished business Thursday.

Gates, who dropped out of Harvard in his junior year before co-founding Microsoft Corp. and going on to become the world's richest person, stopped off at his former stamping grounds to collect an honorary law degree.

"We recognize the most illustrious member of the Harvard College class of 1977 never to have graduated from Harvard," Provost Steven Hyman said.

"While his classmates, including his friend Steve Ballmer, were busy cramming for midterms, he was planning for a revolution, the rise of the personal computer," Hyman said. "It seems high time that his alma mater hand over the diploma."

Ballmer is now Microsoft's chief executive.

During Hyman's comments, Gates, 51, smiled and nodded to the applauding graduates.

The lack of a degree didn't slow Gates' rise to the top echelons of business.

In 1980, Gates and his colleagues at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft were canny enough to negotiate an agreement with IBM Corp. that gave the start-up software company the right to license its operating system for a new generation of personal computers to other manufacturers.

That arrangement ultimately turned the computer business on its ear, shifting power from hardware manufacturers to software programmers. Today, hundreds of companies manufacture hundreds of thousands of brand-name personal computers each year, but more than 90% of those machines use Microsoft's Windows operating system.

At Harvard, Gates lived down the hall from Ballmer, who stayed on to graduate after Gates dropped out to focus his energies on Microsoft, which he founded in 1975 with childhood friend Paul Allen. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980.

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