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By Erik Gudris | @atntennis | Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Tennis legend Roger Federer can now add another accomplishment to his distinguished career - exceptional commencement speaker.

The all-time great Federer delivered the commencement speech at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire this past weekend. His wise words to the graduating class are already going viral on social media, as his "tennis lessons" are being lauded as wise advice not just for students entering the workforce but anyone at all stages of life.

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Federer received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the university before his speech, which he described as his most "unexpected victory ever." Federer, who jokingly referred to himself as "Dr. Roger", said he was pleased to receive the honor, considering he had never graduated from high school or college because of his tennis career.

The 20-time major champion also has a personal connection to Dartmouth. His long-time agent and business partner, Tony Godsick's daughter Isabella, graduated in the 2024 class.

In his speech, Federer compared his current position to theirs, saying he "graduated" from one life to the next. While Federer officially retired from tennis after the 2022 Laver Cup, he actually doesn't like the word "retired."

"I did graduate recently. I graduated tennis. I know the word is "retire." "Roger Federer retired from tennis." Retired. The word is awful. You wouldn't say retired from college, right? Sounds terrible." Federer added, "Like you, I've finished one big thing and I'm moving on to the next. Like you, I'm figuring out what that is. Graduates, I feel your pain. I know what it's like when people keep asking what your plan is for the rest of your life. They ask me: 'Now that you are not a professional tennis player, what do you do?' I don't know. And it's O.K. not to know."

Federer's speech focused on three tennis lessons he learned that also apply to life.

The first was about being "effortless." While many tennis watchers feel that Federer made tennis look easy on the court, he says that being "effortless" is a myth and that he only looked that way through hard work and practice. He said the victories that he appreciates the most are those when the competition was the toughest.

"Because they prove that you can win not just when you are at your best, but especially when you aren't," Federer said. "Most of the time it's not about having a gift. It's about having grit." 

The second lesson, and the one that has stood out for those who watched it online, is about "points." Federer revealed that while he won 80% of his matches, he only won 54% of the points he played.

"When you're playing a point, it is the most important thing in the world. But when it's behind you, it's behind you," Federer said. "This mindset is really crucial, because it frees you to fully commit to the next point…and the next one…with intensity, clarity and focus.

"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. And it's natural, when you're down, to doubt yourself. To feel sorry for yourself. And by the way, your opponents have self-doubt, too. Don't ever forget that. But negative energy is wasted energy. You want to become a master at overcoming hard moments. That to me is the sign of a champion."

Finally, Federer concluded by reminding everyone that life is bigger than a tennis court. He stressed the importance of having a life and a family that sustained him off-court.

"Even when I was in the top five, it was important to me to have a rewarding life, full of travel, culture, friendships, and especially family," he said. 

Dartmouth conferred more than 1,150 degrees to undergraduates from 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and 42 other countries, and 902 graduate or professional degrees.

Photo Credit: Getty Images