Hard work, the ability to learn from his mistakes and sheer gumption led one of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' most notable graduates to become one of Bill Gates' right-hand employees at Microsoft.

Students who graduated from UCCS on Friday have the same ability to succeed, said Scott Oki, who earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the school in 1974 and a master of business administration in 1975 while stationed at the Air Force Academy.

"When I reflect on the things in my life that made a remarkable difference, graduating from UCCS made a difference," Oki told students of the UCCS College of Business before taking the stage at The Broadmoor World Arena to deliver the commencement address. "Take the time to reflect back on the faculty, staff and other students - people that had an impact on the learning that occurred here."

But, he joked, if you ask the founder of Microsoft about college, his answer likely would be "it's overrated," because Gates never graduated from college. This year, Gates reclaimed his spot as the richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Oki said he valued the small UCCS campus, which had about 2,000 students in the mid-'70s, and the fact that all classes were taught by full professors.

"The learning that occurred was just incredible," he said. "The professors provided such a great foundation to do almost anything that was related to business."

Oki is the son of Japanese-American parents interned during World War II, and knows the meaning of hard work. At age 5, he was tying fish bait and selling the tackle for 5 cents apiece. He picked berries at age 10 to make money. At 13, he gave drum lessons to adults.

With two degrees from UCCS in hand, Oki worked for Hewlett-Packard in Colorado Springs and went on to start a software company in California's Silicon Valley with a few buddies. Two years later, they "promptly ran it into the ground."

He heard about Microsoft and wrote a letter to Gates, saying he'd like to work for him.

The company hired Oki as the manager of special accounts and gave him the chance to "do things I probably had no right doing." In his first month on the job, he wrote a proposal to launch an international division.

"Did I speak a foreign language? No. Had I lived in a foreign country before? No. Had I done international business? No. Had I just failed at my own business? Yes."

Nonetheless, Oki was given $1 million of Microsoft's money to get international operations going.

"I vowed not to fail," Oki said.

And he didn't. He helped grow the division into producing half of the company's profits.

Also to his credit, Oki encouraged Gates to develop the Windows platform instead of another operating system.

Oki served as vice president for sales, marketing and service in the 1980s and retired from Microsoft in 1992.

Now 66 and living in Seattle, Oki has founded or co-founded 18 nonprofit organizations, including the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce, the Outrageous Learning Foundation and SeeYour
Impact.org.

Along with running the Oki Foundation, which he calls a marriage of entrepreneurism and philanthropy, he also operates Oki Developments, an investment company with interests in real estate, golf courses, restaurants and fledgling technology companies.

"If you never think outside the box, you'll be relegated to having blinders on," Oki said. "Take every advantage to learn and expand your horizons."

About 600 of the 800 students who earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in August or December attended Friday's graduation ceremony.

The event will be rebroadcast on Comcast Channel 20.

For a schedule of times, go to www.uccs.edu/commencement.

UCCS holds commencement ceremonies in May for spring graduates.

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