Off Court News

McEnroe Aces Stanford Commencement Speech: 'Take Your Best Shot'

Former World No. 1 is a former Stanford student-athlete
June 20, 2023
John McEnroe delivers the commencement speech at Stanford University on 18 June 2023.
Andrew Brodhead/Stanford University
John McEnroe delivers the commencement speech at Stanford University on 18 June 2023. By ATP Staff

John McEnroe aced his commencement speech on Sunday at Stanford University, where he spent one year as a student-athlete.

Naturally, “You Cannot Be Serious!” made an appearance. But the legendary lefty, who became the first professional athlete to deliver the commencement speech at the school, also provided the Class of 2023 and all in attendance with plenty of pearls of wisdom.

“Absolutely amazing things are going to happen to you that you can’t possibly fathom right now, because just like I was at your age, you’re probably hyper focused on your career,” McEnroe said. “If someone had told me all those years ago when I was leaving Stanford that I would one day get guitar lessons from the late, great Eddie Van Halen, or that most of you would know me not from tennis, but from a sitcom about an Indian-American girl on Netflix, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy, and what’s Netflix?’”

<a href=''>John McEnroe</a>
Photo Credit: John Lozano/ISI Photos
McEnroe touched on several topics, from his memorable 1980 Wimbledon blockbuster against Bjorn Borg to mental health. His biggest takeaways had nothing to do with forehands or backhands.

“Everyone wants a great career, but don’t miss your life on the way to work,” McEnroe said. “Work-life balance may seem impossible, but it’s worth pursuing. It took me a long time to learn that lesson.”

The four-time year-end ATP No. 1 presented by Pepperstone did a lot of winning in his career. In singles alone, he tallied 77 tour-level titles and 883 match wins. But in telling attendees about his stinging loss to Borg at Wimbledon 43 years ago, he explained that learning from a loss is the best thing that can happen to you.

“If your mentality is, ‘If it’s not success, then it’s failure’, your life will be really, really hard,” McEnroe said. “Success gives us another chance to keep plugging away at what we love to do. That’s all it really is.”

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McEnroe used tennis throughout his speech to help share life lessons with the crowd. One of them was: “When a ball is coming at you, you have a split second to decide how to return it. You have a handful of options and make the best decision in the moment. Sometimes you win the point and sometimes it’s an endless rally that you lose. But you take your best shot and keep finding the courage to step on the court."

A court McEnroe stepped on for some of the biggest matches of his career was Centre Court at Wimbledon. The American closed his speech by recalling the words from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, which all players walk under en route to the hallowed grass.

The words are: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.”

“Kipling’s point is that one person’s victory is another one’s defeat,” McEnroe said. “Win or lose, what matters is giving everything you’ve got. In a truly full life, you’ll be lucky to have your share of both victories and defeats. In either case, keep finding the courage within you to move forward.”

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