Vanderbilt University's annual commencement features a strawberries-and-champagne celebration. Thus logic prevailed that the school would invite Venus Williams—13 times a champion at Wimbledon, haven of strawberries and cream—to deliver an address on campus in Nashville.
Williams spoke to Vandy's 2019 graduating class on May 9, addressing her own triumphs and lessons over time and beckoning her rapt audience to sculpt their own futures, to "try something new"—for themselves and in the interest of helping others.
"I was so afraid, because I was focused on what I couldn’t do," Williams said, as reported by Vanderbilt media, of her showing in the 2012 Olympics in London, not long after announcing her Sjogren's syndrome diagnosis. "What if I run out of energy? What if I can’t get to that ball? What if, what if, what if? One of the tools for putting fear in its place is focusing on what you can do."
Williams accepted Vanderbilt's Nichols-Chancellor's Medal as well, doled out annually to a person or persons "who define the 21st century and exemplify the best qualities of the human spirit." Williams received the designation in light of her campaigning for equal pay and human rights.
Vanderbilt Commencement speaker and honoree, Venus Williams, provided guidance on 10 lessons for life.— David Howe (@ZeroPSII) May 9, 2019
10. If we are ruled by fear, we are driven by the worst things instead of being motivated by the positive ones.
She also said, “don’t date douchebags.”#VU2019
She has channeled humor in recent months to help her relax on court, and that good humor and dry wit aided her before the Vanderbilt audience, to whom she joked about a missed night-before party invitation and then quipped about dating advice for college students, which included "Don't date douchebags."
This is what we saw in Miami and a little in Indian Wells. I hope we get more of this. pic.twitter.com/UerobEuE7Y— Chad (@CCSMOOTH13) May 9, 2019
The full video of Williams' address became difficult to find, with a link to Facebook video of the event, tweeted by tennis journalist Christopher Clarey, disappearing at some point and the YouTube footage itself was curiously clipped early on in her remarks, which followed a lengthy introduction by Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos.
So awesome & inspiring to hear @Venuseswilliams today speaking to our graduates! My favorite quote - “Pressure is a privilege” - Venus Williams, Vanderbilt Senior Day 2019 #VU2019 pic.twitter.com/R8PWgoLMsg— Dr. Christy Russell (@DrCFootball1) May 9, 2019
Intoning the words of Billie Jean King, Williams made note that "pressure is a privilege" and advised audience members to "get uncomfortable" so as to grow personally, professionally, and relationally. That's sound advice for the class of 2019, and for life.
In Rome this week, Williams fought through her first round against Elise Mertens in a third-set tiebreak to earn a second-round blockbuster showdown with her sister Serena.
Wednesday was meant to mark the 31st meeting between the Williams sisters, but Serena unfortunately pulled out with a continuing left knee injury.