If you missed the energy Steve Ballmer brought to Microsoft events, well, you should have watched the University of Washington commencement on Saturday afternoon.
The former Microsoft CEO gave a keynote speech at the 139th UW graduation celebration in front of more than 45,000 people and started his talk in classic Ballmer style.
“I have to say, I’m a little fired up to be here,” Ballmer said, quickly stepping in front of the podium and tossing his cap aside. “If you ever told me, in my wildest dreams, that I’d be in the end zone at Husky Stadium, lower bowl full of 40,000 people, I would have told you, ‘no way.’
So, I have exactly two thoughts for you,” Ballmer continued. “One — touchdown, Washington! And two, go Dawgs!”
Ballmer, who spoke at the USC Marshall School of Business graduation last month, opened up his speech by saying that this particular class is graduating “at perhaps the best time in history.”
“There has never been a better time — opportunity, opportunity, opportunity,” Ballmer said, channeling his famous ‘developers, developers, developers’ chant. “It awaits you. It’s there for you. You have an extra blessing — you’re graduating from one of the best universities, bar none, in the entire world.”
Ballmer told the grads that it’s perfectly fine if they don’t know what exactly they’ll be doing in their careers — at 58 years of age, even he doesn’t know what’s next. But he does appear to be on the verge of owning an NBA team in Los Angeles, just one year after he nearly brought NBA hoops back to Seattle.
“I look forward to new opportunities for me. One of those, I’m afraid to admit, I might be pursuing down in Los Angeles. Please forgive me for that — that’s a passion for sports,” Ballmer said to a smattering of boos. “I knew I would have to take a little bit of that.”
Ballmer offered up three key pieces of advice for the 2014 grads: Seize opportunities; have a point of view; and be hardcore.
1. Carpe diem
Ballmer loves the latin expression carpe diem, or “seize the day.” He stressed the importance of taking advantage of opportunities that come your way.
“You have to reach out and pick them up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You know what you can do if you grab the wrong [opportunity]? Drop it and pick up another one. It’s OK. Seize the day.”
Ballmer said that Microsoft “seized the day,” when the company first realized it could provide software to IBM.
“People like Bill [Gates] and Paul [Allen] had the wisdom to seize the day when that opportunity presented itself,” he said.
2. Have a point of view
Ballmer shared a story from Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, a person he “barely knows,” but is in awe of what Dorsey accomplished.
“He’s a guy who was writing software to help the taxi cab dispatch in St. Louis,” Ballmer explained. “He discovered the blowing out small messages was a powerful force for taxi cab scheduling. Out of that experience, he developed a point of view that allowed him to create both Twitter and Square. Point of view creates opportunity. You need to be a person who takes a point of view with the opportunities that you’re given.”
3. Be hardcore
This was similar to what Ballmer told the MBA grads at USC last month. The message is really to just stay determined and tenacious with goals that you want to see accomplished — both professionally and personally.
Ballmer used two examples: Microsoft and Nelson Mandela. He noted how many would say that Microsoft didn’t stand a chance selling its products to enterprise businesses, in 1989 all the way through the last decade.
“If you look at Microsoft’s enormous success, 70 or 80 percent of that comes from selling software that automates the way businesses and institutions like the UW automate,” he said.
He also brought up Mandela’s struggle in South Africa to show what being “hardcore” is all about.
“Think of Mandela and his constant, non-stop, long-term fight against the apartheid that finally paid off,” Ballmer said. “Opportunity is about seizing what’s there, it is about having a point of view — but it’s also about patience and determination.”
You can watch Ballmer’s message below. His speech starts at about 2:50:30:
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 5 p.m. with details from Ballmer’s talk.