Graduation season is wrapping up for the Class of 2024, but before the gowns and caps are hung up, you might appreciate a commencement address given earlier this month by tennis legend Roger Federer at Dartmouth College.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner retired from the game in 2022. At 42 years of age, he says he’s relieved to be done playing on the professional circuit. Citing chronic knee pain and the pressures of playing at such a high level, Federer told reporters he “squeezed the lemon out” of the game. “I’m so at peace,” he said.

A professing Catholic and known to carefully navigate hot button political issues, Federer was true to form on the leafy New Hampshire campus. His thoughtful, heartfelt and inspiring remarks have gone viral. A video of the address has been viewed well over a million times.

Married to Mirka for fifteen years, the Swiss-born star and his wife have four children: Myla, Charlene, Leo and Lenny. They were all together for the graduation ceremony and Federer’s receipt of an honorary doctoral degree.

“A family is a team,” he told the crowd. “I feel so very lucky that my incredible wife, Mirka, who makes every joy in my life even brighter, and our four amazing children are here with me today. And more important, that we are here for each other every day.”

Federer began his address by talking about how often sportswriters would cite his “effortless” play. “The truth is, I had to work very hard to make it look easy,” he confided. “Winning effortlessly is the ultimate achievement.”

Christian believers, especially, should embrace a diligent work ethic. The apostle Paul urged:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Col. 3:23-24).

 Whether playing tennis on the worldwide stage at Wimbledon or volunteering at our local church, we should see our work as an extension of our worship.

Despite his reputation for winning, Federer acknowledged and emphasized the importance of perspective and knowing how to lose well.

You can work harder than you thought possible and still lose. I have. 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.

 It can grow wearisome to engage culturally. Even when we make good points, we still lose plenty of battles. In the last decade, we’ve seen abortion celebrated as a virtue, the definition of marriage redefined to great acclaim and the very understanding of the exclusivity of male and female confused, corrupted and outright challenged. But to quote the tennis great:

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. Cry it out if you need to, then force a smile. You move on. Be relentless. Adapt and grow. Work harder. Work smarter.

We’re not necessarily called to be successful. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful,” urged Paul (1 Cor. 4:2). Faithfulness is the hinge on which our service swings.

Finally, Roger Federer noted just how small the tennis court is in comparison to most everything else.

The world is a whole lot bigger than that. Even when I was just starting out, I knew that tennis could show me the world, but tennis could never be the world.

He then went on to encourage graduates to travel, soak up culture, invest in friendships – and love and cherish their families. His mother inspired him to help other children by helping them get an education, and so he encouraged the class to be likeminded. Federer then stressed the importance of developing and maintaining a strong character:

Dartmouth’s legendary football coach Buddy Teevens used to recruit players by telling their parents: “Your son will be a great football player when it’s football time, a great student when it’s academic time, and a great person all the time.”

The development of a strong character should be a priority no matter our age or stage of life. Paul’s qualification for elders in the church provides a good shortlist for the qualities and characteristics we should be cultivating in ourselves, our children and anyone within our sphere of influence.

[He should be] above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect (1 Tim. 3:2-4).

Roger Federer put a ribbon on his remarks by telling Dartmouth’s graduates:

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.

 In addition to endorsing products and serving as tennis’ goodwill ambassador, the universally loved Federer says he spends most of his time now as a doting dad and husband – and now dishing out solid counsel to college graduates and anyone else with ears to hear.


Image credit: Dartmouth College