Roger Federer Shares Powerful Life Lessons in Dartmouth Graduation Speech

Roger Federer, often regarded as the best tennis player of all time, delivered an inspiring commencement speech to the 2024 Dartmouth College graduates. Federer captivated thousands with remarkable eloquence and articulate delivery, ultimately revealing three crucial principles drawn from his career. Throughout the speech, he dismantled the image of him being a perfect tennis player by continuously drawing parallels between the experiences in tennis and broader life lessons: that “effortless” is a myth, it’s only a point, and life extends far beyond the court.

Before sharing his advice, Federer reflected on his own educational path, noting his decision not to attend college after leaving high school to pursue tennis. However, during his speech, the famed athlete effectively connects with the students by comparing their transitory phase out of college to his uncertain journey after concluding his tennis career.

“Retired… The word is awful. You wouldn’t say you retired from college, right? Sounds terrible,” Federer says. “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.”

After reflecting on his transition, Federer goes on to make his three points. Scroll down for the breakdown of each lesson.


“Effortless is a myth.”

“People would say my play was effortless. Most of the time, they meant it as a compliment,” the decorated tennis star explains. “But it used to frustrate me when they would say, ‘He barely broke a sweat!’ Or ‘Is he even trying?’ The truth is, I had to work very hard… to make it look easy.”

Federer's tennis career, marked by a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, two Olympic medals, and numerous other achievements, exemplifies not only his dedication to the sport but the immense effort required behind the scenes.

In his speech, he explains how achieving a sense of effortlessness was the pinnacle of his career. He shares how criticism from everyone, including his rivals, motivated him to refine his initial lack of discipline emphasizing the importance of self-trust and relentless effort over mere talent.

“Yes, talent matters,” Federer admits. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you it doesn’t. But talent has a broad definition. Most of the time, it’s not about having a gift. It’s about having grit…Trusting yourself is a talent. Embracing the process, loving the process, is a talent.”


“It’s only a point.”

Federer’s second lesson teaches the importance of quickly putting setbacks behind you. While he acknowledges that in life, just like in tennis, there will be losses, he emphasizes the need to adapt and move forward.

The Swiss sportsman broke down the notion of his athletic perfection, noting that despite winning almost 80% of his matches, his point-win percentage is only 54%. Losing almost every other point teaches you not to fixate on each shot.

“You teach yourself to think: OK, I double-faulted. It’s only a point,” Federer says. “OK, I came to the net and I got passed again. It’s only a point. Even a great shot, an overhead backhand smash that ends up on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays: that, too, is just a point.”


“Life is bigger than the court.”

In the last lesson Federer imparts on the audience, he recognizes the importance of never forgetting where he came from but still desiring to see the world. He admits that maintaining a rich life with friendships and family is likely why he had a lack of burnout in his career.

“Even when I was just starting out, I knew that tennis could show me the world… but tennis could never be the world,” Federer shares.

At the age of 22, he started the Roger Federer Foundation to provide quality education opportunities to youth in the Southern region of Africa and Switzerland. Federer expressed a deep sense of honor and humility in his philanthropic efforts, claiming that philanthropy is not just donating money to a cause.

“Contributing your ideas… your time… and your energy… to a mission that is larger than yourself. All of you have so much to give, and I hope you will find your own, unique ways to make a difference,” the athlete says in his moving speech.

Finally, Federer concludes with additional tennis metaphors: “Whatever game you choose, give it your best. Go for your shots. Play free. Try everything. And most of all, be kind to one another… and have fun out there.”

h/t: [Open Culture]

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Shiori Chen

Shiori Chen is an Editorial Intern at My Modern Met. Located in the Bay Area, she runs a youth art magazine and contributes as a staff writer for a local online media outlet, focusing on news and journalism. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys painting, watching films, and teaching herself how to play instruments.
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