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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Q&A with 2024 Commencement speaker Roger Federer

Federer discussed his career, philanthropy and the transcendent power of sports.

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This article is featured in the 2024 Commencement & Reunions special issue.

Global sports icon and tennis great Roger Federer is Dartmouth’s 2024 Commencement speaker. A 20-time Grand Slam champion, Federer earned two Olympic medals, led Switzerland to its first Davis Cup title and spent more than four-and-a-half consecutive years as the top-ranked men’s singles player. He retired from the sport in 2022. As president of the Roger Federer Foundation, Federer’s charity work has addressed educational inequities across Southern Africa and in his native Switzerland. Students have been abuzz with the news since the College announced Federer’s appearance back in March. Now, as he prepares to trade the court for the graduation stage, Federer, in emailed responses, discussed his career, philanthropy and the enduring value of athleticism — even in a fraternity basement.

Your experiences as a young person were obviously much different compared to the typical college student. The average graduating senior is around 22 years old — a year older than you were when you first won Wimbledon. Which, if any, elements of your early 20s do you think the graduating seniors could best relate to and benefit from?

RF: My experiences were different from the typical college student as my classrooms were often the tennis courts and gyms. Yet, my global travels also exposed me to diverse cultures, arts and people, just like the rewarding and valuable Dartmouth education. Looking back, I appreciate that the learning and improving continue throughout your life and career, which drives longevity. The seniors should feel proud of their accomplishments in graduating from Dartmouth and feel excited to apply that experience in their next chapters of life. I look forward to celebrating with them during Commencement.

I imagine many of this year’s graduates resonate, in some sense, with how you felt announcing your retirement. After four years at Dartmouth — and almost their entire lives in school — they are entering a completely different chapter of their lives. What advice can you offer for that period of transition?

RF: I’d say to first approach transitions with enthusiasm. Embrace new opportunities while you remain connected to your roots and the special people that support you. Take risks outside of your comfort zone to seek new challenges and paths to apply the skill sets you have learned at Dartmouth. Always stay open to developing new passions and interests along the way.

More than 75% of the Dartmouth student body participates in some form of athletics, from varsity to club to intramural teams. As the Class of 2024 prepares to graduate, what lessons do you think they can take away from their experiences playing sports, and how can they apply those lessons to the next stage of their lives?

RF: Sports and teams provide important professional and personal life lessons. Surround yourself with great people just like those at Dartmouth. Apply the attitude of supporting teammates, learning from them and driving forward together with determination and resilience. Sports create valuable platforms and experiences to deal with adversity, intensity and pressure, allowing growth from defeats and triumphs alike — especially when you can react positively to challenging experiences.

Education is a central part of your mission as a philanthropist, with the Roger Federer Foundation having served millions of school-age children across Southern Africa and Switzerland. What led you to focus on tackling educational inequities?

RF: My mission as a philanthropist was focused on establishing a platform to give back with lasting impact. Inspired by my mother’s heritage in South Africa, we decided to target early childhood education, where we could tangibly and significantly improve the prospects and opportunities of many needy kids. Early education provides a foundation for lifelong skill sets — an area too often taken for granted in many societies.

Dartmouth is known for its traditions — including its love of “Dartmouth pong,” which, unlike most other schools, is played using ping pong paddles. Do you anticipate picking up a new kind of racquet — maybe even a paddle? — while in Hanover? 

RF: I definitely have confidence in my racquet skills and coordination, including table tennis or ping pong. I have heard about “Dartmouth pong” and must admit I am curious about how transferable my skills are in this tradition using a new kind of racquet, maybe even a paddle, and maybe even one without a handle. I’m sure I’ll try it out at some point during the weekend.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.