Tennis legend Roger Federer’s Dartmouth commencement speech goes viral

Tennis legend Roger Federer’s Dartmouth commencement speech goes viral

By Katy Savage

June 12, 2024

Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer brought his star power and words of advice to Hanover on Sunday, when he delivered a viral commencement address to Dartmouth College grads. 

Despite the rainy, chilly morning, Federer’s address lit up the crowd of people, who stood as a sea of umbrellas on the Dartmouth Green. He drew both laughter and applause throughout his 25-minute talk.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion is one of the most successful tennis players in history. He retired from 2022 and like Dartmouth grads, he said he’s trying to figure out his next step after “graduating” from his sport. He shared three lessons—”Let’s call them tennis lessons,” he said. 

Lesson 1: Effortless is a myth

Federer’s frequent victories often led people to describe his play as effortless, a notion that frustrated him.

“The truth is, I had to work very hard to make it look easy,” he said.

He told graduates to have discipline and embrace the process.

“It’s not just about talent; it’s about grit,” he said. 

Lesson 2: It’s only a point—perfection is impossible

Federer spoke about losing the finals at Wimbledon in 2008 when he faced Rafael Nadal. Some called it the greatest match of all time. 

Federer said that while he would have preferred to win, losing in tennis (and in life) is inevitable.

“You can work harder than you thought possible and still lose. I have,” he said.

He also argued that sometimes, it’s the points you didn’t score that define you. Out of the 1,526 singles matches he played, Federer won almost 80% of them—but only took away 54% of the points.

Champions, he said, must learn resilience.

“The best in the world are not the best because they win every point. It’s because they know they’ll lose again and again and have learned how to deal with it,” he said.

Lesson 3: Life is bigger than the court

Federer, 42, started the Roger Federer Foundation at age 22 and he’s helped nearly 3 million children in poverty since.

He encouraged students to embrace new interests. 

“When I left tennis, I became a former tennis player. But you are not a former anything.

“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,” he said. 

In his parting advice, Federer got laughs when he asked Dartmouth President Sian Beilock for his tennis racket. He told the crowd to use an eastern grip for a forehand swing—keep the knuckles slightly apart and don’t squeeze too hard. 

“No, this is not a metaphor! It’s just good technique,” Federer said.

Federer noted this was the second time he’s ever been to a college campus. He left home at age 14 to go to school in the French part of Switzerland, only to leave school at 16 to focus on tennis full time. Federer spoke about the irony of receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from Dartmouth. 

“Dr. Roger. This has to be my most unexpected victory ever!” Federer said. 

Federer spent the weekend in Hanover, and he compared the small New Hampshire town to his home.

“The mountains here are exactly like the Swiss Alps. Just shorter,” he said. 

He ate chocolate chip cookies from FoCo, had a chicken sandwich from Lou’s, and played beer pong—a game believed to be invented by a Dartmouth fraternity in the 1950s and 1960s. 

“Dartmouth is the Wimbledon of pong … I’m actually thinking about turning pro,” Federer said. 

It appears Federer was chosen as the Dartmouth speaker through his business partner and longtime agent Tony Godsick, a 1993 Dartmouth grad. Godsick got into the sports business as an intern at IMG during his junior year of college. Godsick later married Mary Joe Fernández Godsick, a former tennis pro, who won a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. 

Godsick’s daughter Isabella (Bella) is a Dartmouth 2024 grad and she competed on the lacrosse team

“I was with their family, including Mary Joe and Nico, the day Bella got into Dartmouth,” Federer said. “I remember how crazy happy she was. I saw a smile and a level of excitement on her face that I had never seen before But then I got here and actually, everybody is smiling like this. I can see how proud you are of this place and this moment.”

Read Federer’s full speech here. 


  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up.

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