2014's Top Techie College Commencement Speakers

Bill and Melinda Gates head up list of big names in tech giving college commencement addresses.

commencement addresses

Colleges and universities across the country have begun boasting of their Class of 2014 commencement speakers, including some of the biggest names in the technology industry. The tech industry has been well represented over the years, with everyone from Steve Jobs (Stanford, 2005) to Bill Gates (Harvard, 2007) sharing words of wisdom. Here’s who is on the schedule this spring (we’ll add more as they are announced):

2013’s techiest college commencement speakers

Bill & Melinda Gates, Stanford University,  June 15

Bill & Melinda Gates, Stanford University, June 15

Bill and Melinda Gates are founders and co-chairs of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the huge private foundation that works to help people lead healthy, productive lives. Bill also started that little software company called Microsoft, and Melinda used to work there. Melinda also delivered Duke’s commencement speech last year.

Steve Ballmer, ex-CEO of Microsoft, University of Washington, June 14
REUTERS/Jason Redmond

Steve Ballmer, ex-CEO of Microsoft, University of Washington, June 14

Ballmer, who retired as CEO of Microsoft on Feb. 4 after 14 years in that role, should have plenty to say to grads of a university close in proximity to Microsoft's headquarters.

“Steve Ballmer is one of a handful of visionary technology leaders who over the past several decades have had a dramatic impact on how we live and work,” said UW President Michael K. Young. “I’m sure he will have some interesting things to say to our students as they get ready to make their own marks upon the world just as he did but in ways we can hardly imagine.” Ballmer is a Harvard University graduate.

Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), University of Southern California, May 16

Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), University of Southern California, May 16

The CEO of Salesforce.com will return to USC, where he earned a B.S. in business administration in 1986. He is currently on the school’s board of trustees. Not only has Benioff led one of the top cloud computing companies, but he is also active on the philanthropy front, including through the Salesforce.com Foundation. His social activism has garnered him the title of one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders.

Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Johns Hopkins University, May 22

Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Johns Hopkins University, May 22

The YouTube CEO earned her degrees from Harvard, University of California (Santa Cruz) and UCLA. According to Wikipedia, in September 1998, the same month that Google was incorporated, its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up office in Wojcicki in Menlo Park. An advertising whiz, she has been called "the most important Googler you've never heard of". Fittingly, Johns Hopkins announced its commencement speaker via – a YouTube video.

Edward Whitacre (ex-AT&T & GM), University of the Pacific, May 10

Edward Whitacre (ex-AT&T & GM), University of the Pacific, May 10

Whitacre earned an engineering degree from Texas Tech University in 1964 and went straight into the telecom business, where by 1988 he was president of SBC. SBC bought AT&T in 2005 and Whitacre led the company until he retired in 2007. He was wooed out of retirement two years later by President Obama to take over GM, which had just filed for bankruptcy. Whitacre recounts his career as CEO of two of the world's biggest and best-known companies in his 2013 book, "American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA."

Greg and Susan Gianforte (RightNow, etc.), Montana Tech, May 17

Greg and Susan Gianforte (RightNow, etc.), Montana Tech, May 17

Greg started five software companies, including Brightwork and RightNow, a 2012 Oracle acquisition that was once one of Montana’s largest employers. Susan earned mechanical engineering degrees from Cornell and UC Berkeley, and went on to work for Bell Labs and later helped Greg with his startups. The husband and wife are co-founders and trustees of the Gianforte Family Foundation. Their choice as commencement speakers has sparked calls for a boycott by those against their very conservative politics. 

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, May 17

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, May 17

Scientist, engineer, comedian, author and inventor Bill Nye is executive director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space-interest organization. Nye is the current host of three television series: “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel; “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS; and his latest project, on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens,” about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Nye’s next project is “Solving for X,” where he’ll demonstrate how to do algebra. He graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in mechanical engineering.

President Barack Obama, Worcester Technical High School, June 11

President Barack Obama, Worcester Technical High School, June 11

OK, this last one isn’t a college commencement address. But Worcester Tech has been honored as the only high school Obama will deliver an address at this coming graduation season because it represents the sort of focus on technical and career-oriented education that the President has been emphasizing. Worcester Tech has undergone a transformation in recent years from the lowest performing school in the city, and one of the worst vocational schools in the state, to a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.

Glen Schofield, Sledgehammer Games, Golden Gate University, April 26

Glen Schofield, Sledgehammer Games, Golden Gate University, April 26

The CEO and co-founder of Sledgehammer Games has been creating video games that have grossed more than $3 billion over 20 years. He started his career as an artist for Absolute Entertainment, and before starting Sledgehammer, was GM of Electronic Arts' Visceral Games Studio that was responsible for the popular game Dead Space. Schofield  is a GGU alumnus, having graduated with an MBA in 2002.

Bernard Amadei, Founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, May 17

Bernard Amadei, Founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, May 17

Amadei founded Engineer Without Borders-USA in 2002. The group supports community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders. Its 13,800 members, including students from WPI, work with communities to find appropriate solutions for water supply, sanitation, energy, agriculture, civil works, structures, and information systems. Amadei is Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder.