With colleges and universities across the world unable to host traditional commencement exercises this spring due to health and safety measures and precautions brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Serena Williams nonetheless helped bring a graduation ceremony to thousands of seniors — completely virtually.
On Saturday, Williams joined comedian Kevin Hart and NBA champion and MVP Steph Curry for an online celebration to honor the class of 2020, streamed live on social media in partnership with Chase.
Utilizing the hashtag #ShowMeYourWalk, seniors and their families were encouraged to share their graduation photos on social media, while the three stars gave speeches to commemorate their academic achievements and perseverance in the face of unprecedented adversity.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 2, 2020
“This might not be the graduation you all envisioned, but it is nonetheless a celebration of your tenacity to persevere in the face of challenges,” she said. “While I know not many of you personally, I am really humbled to be with you and your families as we commemorate your academic success.
“You all began your collegiate journey with a mission to realize your potential to pursue your dreams, and now you have the tools to push yourselves forward in any direction that you choose. The world is waiting for you and your greatness, and you will have the opportunity to change it for the better.
“To all the graduates out there, parents, teachers, collegians, congratulations. One of the many lessons that I’ve learned throughout my life is that success is subjective. When you go out there into the world, you’ll see so many different versions of success around you.
“Success comes in so many forms, and it’s up to you to define what success means to you and what that means in your life.”
In her commencement address, Williams offered words of support for seniors across the world who were forced to adapt to a unique set of circumstances as they worked towards completing the next phase of their academic careers, which included the closure of college and university campuses and online and distance learning.
She also offered the class of 2020 personal anecdotes of how she’s overcome challenges in her life, from recalling memories of her early years as a professional at the age of 14, to her pursuit of success in other industries outside of tennis.
“Although we are all facing uncertainty right now, we must remember that we are strongest when we are together. Over the course of your lifetime, there’s going to be so many setbacks and challenges that force you to pause to look inward and listen to the voice that says, ‘You can do it,'” she said.
“It’s your job to keep your feet on the ground in those times of self-doubt, because those moments teach how to fly, to believe in yourself, and they teach you to recognize opportunity and act on it without fear.
“To graduate college is an incredible feat, regardless of the circumstances, but to graduate college in the middle of a global pandemic is all the more inspiring. This is a massive, huge milestone in your life and you all should be so proud.”
Wrapping up her remarks with one word – calling the students “resilient” – the 23-time Grand Slam champion encouraged them all to rise to the occasion, no matter where they are headed next.
“If there’s one piece of advice that I can instill in you, it’s to magnify your inherent greatness, by taking risks and demanding more,” she said. “As you pursue this next chapter in your life, pay attention to the issues and the matters that move you take action.
“Look to allies where you wouldn’t expect to find them, don’t be afraid to lean on people and ask for support when you need it, and don’t forget that teamwork goes a very long way.
“To the class of 2020, you are resilient. You are fighting during these unexpected times, and your mental fitness is getting you through each day a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more self-aware than the day before. This is progress in the journey to success.”