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"Yes: You're the best! Yes: Go for it!"
Tennis legend lobs balls, delivers pep to millenial grads

Aided by members of the UMass tennis team, Commencement speaker Billie Jean King kicks of her address with a barrage of autographed tennis balls. Ducking for cover, from left, are fellow honorary degree recipients Jeffrey Davidow and Eugene Isenberg '50, and state representative Stephen Kulik '01. (Ben Barnhart photo)

"The last three weeks I've asked people to remember who spoke at their graduations and what did they remember. Ninety-nine percent cannot remember the name of the speaker or what they said. Not one thing that they said. So you better not let me down today. My name is Billie Jean King and I want you to remember this one thing before you get out of here. I'm going to keep it really simple: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! [Answering screams from audience.]

     "Let's see if you can remember a couple things: As the Olympic coach for the women's tennis team, I [kept] a journal. The four basic parts to it were the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual.

      "Can you remember that? The physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual—Yes, maybe you'll remember that, yes! [Lots of screams.] And when you dream your dreams, make sure you integrate all of these parts, so you have total fulfillment. Remember it, come on—the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual!

     "As you leave today to go on, I don't want you to forget your friendships. This is so important, particularly in business. Your friendships, your relationships, your networking and your mentoring.

     "If it hadn't been for a friend I would never have played tennis. It was the last sport I ever played. I played every other sport before I played tennis, all team sports. Always a team sport. And a friend of mine, Susan Williams, in the fifth grade, said, 'Do you want to play tennis?' And I said, 'What's tennis?'

     "So my friend Susan Williams brought me to tennis. And [at] my first free lesson at the public park, I decided I wanted to be the number one tennis player in the world. And, if it wasn't for Susan, I wouldn't have gotten there.

     "Yeah! Yeah!

      "Just don't lose your friendships and acquaintance-ships you have here today. Don't ever lose them. They'll be part of your networking as you get older. They'll be important. Find a mentor, find a mentor and be a mentor, give back. And when people tell you not to believe in your dreams, and they say 'Why?', say 'Why not?'

     "As you heard from your student speaker, Litza [J. Meléndez '00], she dreamed about being the student speaker here four years ago, as a freshman. And her dream came true today. I congratulate her.

     "My younger brother, Randy Moffit, was a major league baseball player for twelve years. Most of those years he was with the San Francisco Giants, a relief pitcher. He was cut from his high school team and told he was not going to make it. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team and was told he was not going to make it. You want to be like Mike? Why not?

     "All team tennis in my dreams is coed. And everyone for thirty years has told me to give it up. And I'm never going to give it up.

     "So, remember to dream and then to go out and act.

     "[And]one of our fellow honorees, Ahmed Kathrada, who received his honorary doctorate today: Just think about living twenty-six years in prison. As a child, Ahmed wanted to end apartheid in South Africa. And when he was in prison with Nelson Mandela, they never gave up their dreams. And now there is a new South Africa. Because of people like Ahmed.
"Don't ever forget it.

     "June 23, 1972, Title IX. The first time a woman ever got an athletic scholarship to college was in 1972. Men have been getting them for over a hundred years. You can be proud of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, because you're one of a handful of institutions that are fully compliant for Title IX. And the university has achieved this while not reducing any sports from the men's program.

     "That is awesome. Because only a handful of universities throughout this country are compliant. So, I thank you very much for that. Without Title IX our women would have never won the gold medal for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. We won the softball. We won the Olympic gymnastics. We won basketball. And we won soccer. And last year we won the world cup in women's soccer, because of Title IX.

     "A fast forward. Now we're in 1973. We were just in 1972. Title IX. Remember? Now we're in 1973. Let me set the stage. With the height of the women's movement. We were not burning bras, but wanting equal opportunity for women and men. Vietnam was finally calming down, we just passed Roe v. Wade. Watergate was heating up, we had no microwaves, no cable TV. And personal computers? Forget it, hadn't been thought of. Women were making 59 cents on the dollar in 1973.

     "And the reason I played Bobby Riggs is because Margaret Court, the number-one player in the world that year from Australia, had lost to him. On Mother's Day. It was called the Mother's Day massacre. She lost so badly that I finally had to play the hustler Bobby Riggs. The former number-one tennis player in the world.

     "And that match was not about tennis, it was about social change. About changing the hearts and minds of people. To believe that women could chew gum and walk at the same time. That we deserved an opportunity to compete and an opportunity to play. We deserved it.

     "Now we're up to 75 cents on the dollar, such a deal. We deserve a 25 cent discount every time we go shopping.
"And the young men who experienced that match back in 1973? I call you the first generation of men of the women's movement. You are the first generation of men who insist that their daughters have equal opportunities with their sons.

     "And, the most important word that's helped me in my life when things have gone right or when things have gone wrong: That is responsibility. Accept responsibility. And I'll give you an idea. Like in tennis, every ball that comes to me is a decision. Every ball that comes to me is a decision. Do I slice it? Do I hit cross-court? Do I hit top spin? Do I hit side spin? Do I lob? What do I do?

     "But I have to accept responsibility for that. And that's what sports teaches us, to put it on the line so to speak. And to live it. And if you remember one thing, it's [that it is] everyone's responsibility to lead, to honor, and to fight for everyone's basic rights for equality.

     "Regardless of our gender, our age, our race, our religion, our appearance, our sexual orientation, or our ability.

     "So dream, act, and lead.

     "And congratulations to you, Massachusetts! Yes: You're the best. Yes: Go for it."

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