Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was his usual ebullient self as he spoke before tens of thousands Saturday afternoon.
Only instead of an audience of developers or company partners, his audience were the thousands of students graduating from the University of Washington and their friends and family.
Ballmer was the speaker at the University of Washington’s 139th commencement ceremony Saturday, where he also received an honorary doctor of science degree from the school.
He immediately got the crowd of some 5,300 students and 40,000 family members and friends cheering when he exhorted the graduating students to give themselves a round of applause.
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“This class is graduating at perhaps the best time in history,” he said. “You have the greatest opportunities in front of you of any class ever.”
Then, tweaking the enthusiastic “Developers! Developers! Developers!” catchphrase that he became famous for while leading Microsoft, he told the students: “Opportunity! Opportunity! Opportunity! It awaits you.”
Ballmer kept his speech short, referring only briefly to his retirement from Microsoft earlier this year, and to his top bid for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team last month.
His retirement from Microsoft’s top position, as well as the leadership of new CEO Satya Nadella, is a “wonderful opportunity for Microsoft” to get fresh ideas and fresh leadership, he said.
Ballmer referred to some student speakers who had said they didn’t know what life would hold for them.
“I am 58 years old and I, too, don’t know what I’m doing again,” Ballmer said, laughing.
One of the opportunities though, he said, “may be down in Los Angeles” and involve his passion for sports.
Ballmer focused his speech on three principles: “carpe diem” — or “seizing the day,” having a point of view, and what he called being “hard-core.”
He urged the students to “seize the day. Opportunities are there. But you have to grab them. … Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”
He also exhorted students to have a point of view, telling the story of Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey who found, in the course of writing taxicab- and ambulance-dispatch software, that short messages were a powerful way to communicate with and connect people.
“Point of view creates opportunity,” Ballmer said. “You need to be a person who takes a point of view with the opportunities that are given.”
Finally, Ballmer encouraged the students to be “hard-core” — a term that he defined as being tenacious, determined, patient, industrious, and thinking and working long-term.
Opportunities are about seizing the day and having a point of view, he said, and also being determined over the long haul.
“You will need to put in long-term effort and be hard-core in order to seize the opportunities that are in front of you,” he said.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.