University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Commencement

Commencement Speaker
Billie Jean King, Tennis Champion and Pioneer of Women's Sports

Billie Jean King

Thank you.  Thank you, President Fogel, and thank you to the trustees for this wonderful honor.  Wow, there are so many people to congratulate.  To my fellow honorees, to the chair, and the board, the students, graduates, faculty, staff, I would like to make a special thank you to all in the military, that protect a great country.  And their families.  Their families.  Thank you. 

As you know, it's wonderful to be here with all of you graduates and your families and your friends in this celebration of the class of 2011.  As I was preparing for this speech, I had a chance to speak with a couple of your student leaders.  Paws up!  Go cats!

Start a new tradition.  Why not.  With the cats, right?  Catamounts, why not?  2011. 

Anyway, I want to thank a couple of your student leaders.  Thanks a lot, Kofi and David, for helping me.  Kalvin, love your Hollywood look. Yeah.

Also, I'd like to thank my good friend Richard Ader, who is a member of the 1963 graduating class here at UVM, and he filled me in on the rich history of your university.  Every generation stands on the shoulders of the generations before.  And now it's your turn to shape the future, so others can stand on your shoulders.  It's scary, it's the unknown.  But true courage asks us to move beyond our fears.

As a youngster, I played a lot of team sports.  Basketball was my first sport.  I have a younger brother ‑‑ God gave me extra energy.  I think that's what's going on here.

When I was a child, and I have a younger brother who was a major league baseball player, Randy Moffitt ‑‑ played for the San Francisco Giants.  Thought I'd just throw that in.  My dad was a firefighter and my mom was a homemaker, and she ended up working and they ended up working three jobs so my brother and I could have our dreams.  Tennis was my last sport, and as a child I noticed one thing ‑‑ or many things ‑‑ but one theme.  White balls, white clothes, white socks, white shoes, white people.

Where is everybody else?  At 12 years of age, I made a commitment.  I had an epiphany, and I made a commitment that I would dedicate my life to equal rights and opportunities for both boys and girls, men and women, the rest of my life.  And nothing's changed.

When I was at college, at California State‑LA, I was working two jobs and I thought I was really living large.  I was.  I had a job.  In fact I had two jobs, trying to get myself through.  Cost $47 a semester, then.

The parents are going, really?  But I didn't have a ‑‑ this was pre‑Title IX.  In case you don't know what Title IX is, Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972.  It was the first time any private or public high school, college, or university receiving federal funds must spend those funds equally on men and women.  So 1972 was the first time that happened.

Edith Green really had the idea of Title IX first.  She was a democrat out of Oregon, congresswoman.  It always reminds me of Susan B. Anthony's quote.  I think we all hopefully know she was an activist.  "There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make the laws and elect lawmakers."  And basically what she's saying is we all have to do this together, men and women, not just one gender or the other.  Down the road, there were two fellows:  Stan Smith, who became the number one tennis player, had a full scholarship to the University of Southern California, and just near there was UCLA.  And I hope most of you have heard of Arthur Ashe.  He got a full scholarship to UCLA.  So the two of them had a full ride.  I'm working two jobs, I thought I was living large.  I wasn't paying attention.
but they had all this and I didn't.

And yet, as things were bubbling up in me ‑‑ life is difficult.  There's always challenges ‑‑ and after I talked to Kofi and David, I was trying to think, what are just two or three things I could just say to you that maybe you can take with you the rest of your life. 

I know that most of you will never remember who did your commencement speech.  I know all that.  I've asked probably 100 people or more, and that no one knows who their commencement speaker was.  Not one.  So if you forget, it's OK.  But I want you to maybe remember a couple of the things we talk about.  Maybe that will work.  Number one, learn how to learn. 

Number two, relationships are everything with yourself and others.  No. 3, be a problem solver.  How does one learn?  A couple of things I wrote down is actively listen.  Actively listen ‑‑ not just listen, actively listen.  Be observant, be interested in others, friends, family associates and the rest of the world.  Know your strengths and weaknesses, know your strengths, particularly. 

Study history.  The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.  You're going to have a tough time.  It's a tough time to go out and work.  I'm not here to discourage you.  In fact, I'm here to encourage you, but I know a friend of mine who sent out over a thousand resumes.  He had 71 interviews on either the phone or in person.  He took over eight months to land his first job.  And his dad is in the industry of communication and he had contacts.  We all tried to help him get this job.  It is tough, but you can do it.  I want you to keep learning, think about little steps and small victories.  Little steps, small victories. 

Like I'm trying to master my iPad.  I've gone from a Blackberry and I have an iPad.  And I can tell you, if I ever master, or just get close to using it properly, many are going to celebrate.  Especially at the office in World Team Tennis, my business, they're going to be thrilled.

Number 2, relationships are everything:  When it comes to relationships, you never know how you're going to touch another person's life or how they will touch yours.  You never know.  1973, two weeks before I played this famous match against this guy named Bobby Riggs ‑‑ this is for the parents and grandparents, OK?  In 1973, just by the way, a woman could not get a credit card on her own.  And we love to shop until we drop.  I don't understand that.

So anyway, I was invited to a party by Jerry Parinchio, who was the promoter of that match, and I didn't really want to go.  But I did go, and I said, "Jerry, what's this party all about?"  He said, "It's for Elton John."  I said, "Are you ‑‑ you're joking, aren't you?"  He said, "No, it's for Elton John."  

I said, "He's my favorite!"

And I'm going like this, "ehhhhhhhhh."  So everybody sits down for this dinner, and Elton is looking at me from across the room and I am like ducking, and then I look over, and my eye is kind of like looking at him.  So somebody comes over and said, "This is ridiculous.  Elton has been wanting to meet you all night, and he's too shy," and I go, "Ditto."  I was so shy. 

So he dragged me over, we sit down, we start talking, and he goes, "Next time you come to England, let's get together," and I'm thinking, oh, sure, sure, it's not happening, right? 

Anyway, eight months later I go to England to play Wimbledon, there's a message, "Please call me.  Elton John."  So I call him and I go hi.  He goes, "Hi.  What are you doing?"  
I go, "I just got here." 

He goes, "Can I come over?" 

Oh, sure, come on over, no problem.  So he drives over in his Rolls Royce and we sit in the car and listen to music until 5 in the morning, and we've been friends ever since.  It's amazing.

But if I hadn't gone to that party, I never would have met him. 

So relationships, connections, are everything.
he went on to write "Philadelphia Freedom" for me.  The older ones in here, 1975?

And I cannot tell you how excited he was before he came to Vermont to his concert.  I had to hear all about it.  Billie, I've been to every state in the United States.  I've never been to Vermont.  I'm so pumped, I'm going to go to Vermont.  This is going to be great! Ben & Jerry's is going to do an ice cream after me, called Yellow Brickle Road.  I am so stoked. 

He said he had the best time here, and he finally got to Vermont.  He says, I can't believe I haven't done Vermont. 

So anyway, be very proud, because he had a great time here, and he wanted me to thank you.  But the reason I'm here today is because of Richard and Pamela Ader.  That's why I'm here.  I want to thank the Aders for establishing the Rich and Pamela Ader Green and Gold Professor to a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences or School of Business Administration, so thank you for supporting ‑‑ I know you went here, Richard, but thanks for supporting the school, and thank you, Pam.

Thank you.  We all need sheroes and heroes. 

And I want you to think about your life so far and who's made the difference in it.  Those are the true sheroes and heroes ‑‑ family, extended family, teachers, professors, coaches, friends, siblings, whatever.  So I just want you to think about that, because that's really the most important thing.  And most of your sheroes and heroes are probably here celebrating today, so thank you, sheroes and heroes.

Be a problem‑solver.  It is so important for us, once we've identified the problem, to be in the solution.  This is where true champions in life prevail.  Don't complain all the time.  Get in the solution once you've identified the problem. 

In coaching, I use a couple of key phrases that I love to use.  It's called champions adjust or adapt.  I'm talking about in life, I'm not talking about athletes.  Champions in life adjust or adapt, and pressure is a privilege.  Pressure is a privilege.

Sometimes it's important to lead and sometimes it's important to support.  Be aware of which role you need to play as you go through the day. 

Nelson Mandela had it right:  He combined humanity and forgiveness.  He made it a part of his solution to get to know friends and adversaries.  He had a vision of what South Africa and the future of his nation looked like.  The bottom line is, he was definitely in the solution at every step of his journey.  If you ever get the opportunity to get to South Africa, please make the effort to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in prison.  If any of you saw Invictus, they actually showed the cell.  Morgan Freedman played him in Invictus, they actually showed the cell where he lived most of those 27 years.  It was one of the most enriching things of my life. 

And I'll leave you today with a quote of one of the great poets of my generation, Bob Dylan.  Here it goes:  "May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true, may you always know the truth, and see the light surrounding you.  May you always be courageous, stand upright and strong, and may you stay forever young."

Thank you very much.  God bless you.  God bless America.

Captioned live by Norma J. Miller (

Last modified June 24 2011 02:54 PM

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