Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arturo A. Massol-Deyá, executive director of Casa Pueblo, Ty White, the 2023 Arizona Education Foundation Teacher of the Year, and David P. Franke, a principal at Franke & Company, will be recognized with honorary doctoral degrees from Northern Arizona University and provide the keynote address during four commencement ceremonies taking place on May 12-13 at NAU.

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NAU 2023 Honorary doctorate recipients and commencement speakers, including Bill Gates

Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate from NAU on Saturday, May 13, during the 3 p.m. ceremony.

“It is our privilege to recognize Bill Gates for his pioneering work in science and technology and his longstanding thought leadership and philanthropic commitment to creating a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, life and live up to their full potential,” NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera said. “As NAU advances its mission to deliver equitable postsecondary value, we are honored to have the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as we seek to ensure that the talent and aspirations of people in Arizona and beyond are met with the opportunity to realize economic mobility and social impact—shaping a brighter future for themselves and the communities they represent.”

Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen and led the company to become the worldwide leader in business and personal software and services. In 2008, he transitioned to focus full-time on the Gates Foundation’s work to expand opportunities to save and improve the lives of the world’s most disadvantaged people. In partnership with Melinda French Gates, as co-chair, Gates shapes and approves foundation strategies and sets the overall direction of the organization. Through the foundation, he has spent more than 20 years working on global health and development issues, including maternal, newborn and child health; agricultural development; water sanitation and hygiene practices; pandemic prevention and disease eradication; and much more. Through his private office, Gates Ventures, he pursues work in Alzheimer’s research and other health care issues, interdisciplinary education, and technology. At Breakthrough Energy, Gates is putting his experience as an innovator and problem-solver to work to address climate change by supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs, big thinkers, and clean technologies. In 2010, Gates, Melinda French Gates and Warren Buffett founded the Giving Pledge, an effort to encourage the wealthiest families and individuals to commit publicly more than half of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations during their lifetime or in their will.

Arturo A. Massol-Deyá, executive director of Casa Pueblo, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University on Friday, May 12 during the 11 a.m. ceremony.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Arturo Massol-Deyá’s work as a scholar, advocate and agent of change is a lesson for all on how to translate knowledge into action for the benefit of communities,” Cruz Rivera said. “NAU is a university committed to climate action and social impact, and Arturo’s sincere commitment to pursuing social and environmental justice for the people of Puerto Rico reminds us of the impact determined dedication and unrelenting intentionality can have in driving meaningful change.”

Massol-Deyá is from the mountainous area of Puerto Rico in the municipality of Adjuntas, where his parents founded the community-based organization, Casa Pueblo. Massol-Deyá grew up in this project and has chaired its board of directors since 2007. Casa Pueblo was responsible for protecting the central region and its critical watersheds from an open pit mining proposal and later from a massive gas pipeline. Instead, new forest units, El Bosque del Pueblo and Bosque La Olimpia, were designated and have since been managed by the community initiative. These designations changed Puerto Rico’s forestry policy, more than doubling the island’s protected land area. A graduate of the public school system in 1986 and the University of Puerto Rico in 1990, Massol-Deyá obtained his doctoral degree from Michigan State University in 1994. Since then, he has been a faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, Massol-Deyá and Casa Pueblo founded a community assistance response that aims to change the energy landscape of a country dependent on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy sources.

Ty White, the 2023 Arizona Education Foundation Teacher of the Year, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University on Friday, May 12, during the 4 p.m. ceremony.

“Ty is an exceptional educator who has committed himself to advancing STEM and rural education for the betterment of communities in our state,” Cruz Rivera said. “As an institution that began as a teachers’ college, it is always special for NAU to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our state’s finest teachers like Ty who do so much to provide opportunity and lifelong inspiration for the next generation.”

White is an award-winning chemistry teacher at Willcox High School in Willcox, Arizona.  White earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry secondary education from Arizona State University and a master’s in STEM education from the Teachers in Industry program at the University of Arizona. White is a founding board member of InSimEd, a non-profit that creates industry simulation challenges for students and is affiliated with Aerospace Education Corporation. At Willcox High School, White sponsors the Science Club, the Solar Go-Kart Challenge, and the Knowledge Bowl. He is the Southeast Arizona Cabinet Coordinator for the Chief Science Officers program and the Southwest Regional Space Settlement Design Coordinator. White received the 2020 American Chemical Society Teacher of the Year Award for Southeast Arizona and the Rocky Mountain Region. He was named the 2021 Rural Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Rural School Association and the 2022 National Rural Teacher of the Year by the National Rural Education Association. White grew up outside of Globe, Arizona, and manages a small cow-calf operation with his wife and father-in-law. He competes in team roping and enjoys hunting, fishing, and working in his garden.

David P. Franke, a principal at Franke & Company and President of the Northern Arizona University Foundation Board, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University on Saturday, May 13, during the 10 a.m. ceremony.

“I am deeply appreciative of the leadership and partnership of Dave Franke in advancing NAU’s mission, and this honor is fitting for a business and philanthropic leader of his stature,” Cruz Rivera said. “His visionary leadership and staunch advocacy for NAU has helped secure record philanthropic engagement for our university and helped accelerate our efforts to deliver equitable postsecondary value for the students and communities we serve.”

Franke & Company is a family office that invests capital into a diverse set of private, alternative investment opportunities. The company portfolio has included investments in operating businesses, private equity transactions, real estate, venture capital, biotechnology, and other alternative assets. Franke has been with the firm since 1991. During his tenure, Franke has underwritten thousands of investment offerings, led the negotiations of company investments, and been active in the ongoing oversight of portfolio companies and investments. When appropriate, he has served as a board director for portfolio companies. Franke & Company is also active philanthropically, with a focus on supporting higher education. Franke is primarily responsible for these efforts, which include identifying philanthropic opportunities, assessing the merits of such gifts, and overseeing their impact. Franke is a board member for both the NAU Foundation and the University of Washington Foundation. He maintains active philanthropic committee roles at NAU, the University of Montana, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University. His philanthropic service has also included serving as chairman of the Sojourner Center, an education committee member of Opportunity International, a committee member of United Way and more. Franke holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington and an MBA from Arizona State University.

Find more information about the Bill Gates Commencement activity on the NAU Commencement website.