UW News

April 26, 2010

William H. Gates Sr. to be UW Commencement speaker

News and Information

William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as a prominent lawyer, civil activist and philanthropist, will be the University of Washington’s Commencement speaker in ceremonies at Husky Stadium June 12.

Gates has served as a UW regent since 1997. He also chaired the UW Foundation board from 2001 to 2006, during which the UW mounted its most successful fundraising campaign in history, receiving $2.68 billion when the campaign concluded in 2008.

Gates attended the University of Washington on the G.I. Bill after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1949. He earned his law degree from the UW in 1950 and launched what would prove to be a long and successful career as a founding partner of the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis. After graduating from the UW, Gates married Mary Maxwell, whom he had met when both were students at the University. Their 44-year marriage produced three children, Kristianne, Bill, and Libby.

Today, Gates guides the vision and strategic direction of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves as an advocate for the foundation’s key issues. He first answered his son’s request for help in using his resources to improve reproductive and child health in the developing world by directing the William H. Gates Foundation, which was established in 1994. It merged with the Gates Learning Foundation to create the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.

Gates also has served as trustee, officer and volunteer for more than two dozen Northwest organizations, including the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and King County United Way. He has served as president of both the Seattle/King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association.

He is co-founder of the Initiative for Global Development, a national alliance of business leaders that works to reduce global poverty by advocating for effective U.S. policies and advancing innovative private sector solutions to expand economic development in poor countries.

Gates is co-author of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes, a defense of the policies promoted by the estate tax. His most recent book, Showing Up for Life, recounts the people and experiences that have influenced his thinking and guided his moral compass.

His honors and awards include being named the 1991 UW School of Law Distinguished Alumnus. He received the American Bar Association Medal in 2009, as well as the William O. Douglas Award in 2009. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.

The university’s 135th Commencement ceremonies begin at 2 p.m. About 4,100 graduates are expected to attend, with an audience of about 39,000 family members and guests. Degrees are awarded to those who have completed academic requirements some time during the 2009-2010 academic year. Members of the Board of Regents, deans and other representatives of the University’s 17 colleges and schools will participate in the Seattle ceremony.