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Roger Federer Gives "Tennis Lessons," to Dartmouth Graduates in Commencement Speech

Roger Federer getting a doctorate from Dartmouth was not on my bingo card this year.


As an avid tennis fan, I couldn't help but envy Dartmouth's Class of 2024 when they announced Roger Federer as their commencement speaker. The news left me eagerly wondering what notes of wisdom Roger would share in his speech.


Since his retirement in 2022, I've felt the void of Roger Federer's absence on the tennis court, wishing I could turn back time to watch him play a Grand Slam match one last time. But as I listened to his speech on that fateful day, streaming through my laptop, I was instantly transported back, feeling nostalgic and captivated.


Federer immediately captured my attention when he humorously referred to receiving a Dartmouth doctorate as his most "unexpected victory," reflecting the 20-time Grand Slam champion's signature wit. From jokes about wearing shorts almost every day for the last 35 years to expressing his love for the grass court, Federer masterfully incorporated elements of the game into his speech.


As he reminisced about his post-retirement days, Federer opened up about the challenges of transitioning from a professional tennis player to what he termed a "tennis graduate." He shared valuable "tennis lessons" that he hoped the graduates could carry with them beyond Dartmouth, making his speech relatable and inspiring.


With this in mind, here are some standout moments and quotes from Roger Federer's speech that truly resonated with me. These gems of wisdom offer valuable advice we can all use as we navigate the complexities of life.



No. 1) Effortless is a Myth.

Reflecting on reviews about his playing style, Federer revealed that his "effortless" game required far more than just natural talent. He candidly shared stories from his early years, when he would whine, swear, and even throw his racket, marking the beginning of a wake-up call that made him realize the hard work ahead. For Federer, "winning effortlessly is the ultimate achievement."


"I didn't get where I got on pure talent alone. I got there by trying to outwork my opponents. I believed in myself. But BELIEF in yourself has to be earned."


As a current college student wrapping up my sophomore year, I can't help but replay this quote in my head. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that sometimes, believing in myself is all I need to keep pushing forward. I resonated deeply with Federer's wake-up calls and moments of realization as he recounted his experiences on the pro tour.


What struck me most was when he said, "You can win not just when you are at your best, but especially when you aren't." As he reflected on the importance of not just talent, but also discipline and self-belief, I began to realize that even small things can come together to form puzzle pieces that lead to our ultimate victory.



No. 2) It's Only a Point.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Roger Federer speech without him mentioning Wimbledon.


For me, as someone who takes every little thing to heart and a chronic overthinker, this next lesson raised an eyebrow. When I'm enthralled while watching the peak of a tennis match, I think about the prolonged rallies that go into each point, especially at grand slam tournaments. For me to hear THE Roger Federer, who won Wimbledon eight times, saying that, surprise would be an understatement.


Federer seamlessly incorporated a scenario where a single player wins the ultimate victory of a Grand Slam title, tying in the individualism and competitiveness of the sport. He recalled the legendary 2008 Wimbledon match against Rafael Nadal, often dubbed the "greatest match of all time," and paid respect to his longtime rival. He spoke candidly about the criticism following his defeat, the expectations, and the loss of his world No. 1 title. He said some defeats hurt more than others, but it was crucial to keep working and competing.


"The truth is, whatever game you play in life... sometimes you're going to lose. A point, a match, a season, a job... it's a roller coaster, with many ups and downs."


For Federer, digesting emotions, growing from defeats, and overcoming hard moments cultivate the mindset of a champion. Negative energy is wasted energy. Reflecting on our lives as a series of tennis matches, we realize that we grow the most through our hardest defeats.



No. 3) Life is Bigger Than the Court

"I knew that tennis could show me the world... but tennis could never be the world."


In the latter half of his speech, Federer reflected upon his roots. From leaving home at 14 to attend school in another part of his home country, Switzerland, to starting a foundation inspired by his mother, these meaningful experiences fuel his everyday motivation. Federer spoke passionately about his foundation's mission to empower children through education.


As he recounted his travels to Africa, playing pong and reading stories to children, I was reminded of the significant impact individuals can make in the world around them. Federer reflected on his philanthropic efforts' complexities and rewarding experiences, which emanated from his enjoyment and feelings of inspiration. His main message to the students was that they also have the power to make a difference.


"All of you have so much to give, and I hope you will find your own, unique ways to make a difference.

Because life really is much bigger than the court."


As he began the conclusion of his speech, he connected student experiences, education, and legends. The elements of tennis returned as he mentioned the various influences that make up the composition of who we are as individuals. These bonds and relationships that we share with our friends and loved ones are the ones that matter the most.


"You are future record-breakers and world travelers… future volunteers and philanthropists... future winners and future leaders. I'm here to tell you... from the other side of graduation... that leaving a familiar world behind and finding new ones is incredibly, deeply, wonderfully exciting."


As I wrap up this piece, I reflect on how I can incorporate these "tennis lessons" into my own life. What makes Federer's speech truly special is that it resonates with anyone —not just graduates. The emotions that filled me throughout the speech were reflection, accomplishment, and realization as I pondered my future.


Federer's words reminded me of the importance of focusing on the present to reach future aspirations and recognizing how the world around us can shape and influence us right now.


Sometimes, we must approach life like a tennis match, savoring every point, win, and defeat. We can truly appreciate the journey and grow from every experience by embracing each moment.



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