Trustees, faculty, staff and students on the Honorary Degrees Committee chose social justice advocate and tennis icon Billie Jean King to deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2013. King will be the principal speaker at the College’s 224th Commencement Exercise on June 2. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Stacy Schiff ’82 will be the Baccalaureate speaker the day before.
In addition to her hall-of-fame tennis career, King has advocated for gender equality both in and out of sports, LGBT equality, improved higher education and intercollegiate athletics and environmental initiatives for the sports industry. Schiff is a bestselling biographer and has won numerous awards for her work, including a 2000 Pulitzer Prize. She has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications, and contributes to The New York Times.
Billie Jean King
Born in Long Beach, Calif., in 1943, King distinguished herself as an exceptional softball player until her parents convinced her to give the sport up for tennis. King first gained international recognition at age 17, winning the doubles championship at Wimbledon with Karen Hantze, the first of her record 20 titles at Wimbledon. King won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles. King strongly supported opening tennis to professionalism, and turned pro in 1968 with the beginning of the Open Era. The policy allows professionals to compete with amateurs, allowing tennis players to support themselves financially by playing tennis. King defeated former champion Bobby Riggs in 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, one of the most watched sports events at the time. That same year, King lobbied for and obtained equal prize money for men and women in the U.S. Open.
An advocate for gender equality, King founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 and co-founded World TeamTennis, a groundbreaking mixed gender professional tennis league. In 2008, King wrote Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of her match against Riggs. Also devoted to environmental preservation, she co-founded GreenSlam in 2007, an initiative to change the sports industry in environmentally responsible ways, to promote environmental studies and to support “green-collar” job training in underserved communities.
LIFE named King one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” in 1990. She was named Global Mentor for Gender Equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2008. President Barack Obama awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, the highest civilian honor in the United States. Also in 2009, King received the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award in recognition of her contributions to improving higher education and intercollegiate athletics. Several LGBT organizations, including Human Rights Foundation, GLAAD and the Lambda Legal Foundation have recognized King’s leadership in the fight for LGBT rights.
Stacy Schiff ’82
A member of the Class of 1982, Schiff was born in nearby Adams, Mass., in 1961. Schiff’s first book, Saint-Exupéry: A Biography, which focused on the life of prolific French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was a finalist for many prestigious awards, including the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. Schiff won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for her second book, Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov): Portrait of a Marriage, a biography of Véra Nabokov.
After her award-winning A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America, Schiff published her most recent book, Cleopatra: A Life, to overwhelming acclaim in 2010. The book is to be translated into 30 languages, and is a No. 1 bestseller and The New York Times Best Book of the Year.
Schiff has received several prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Humanities, and she has also served as a Director’s Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library.
Schiff received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006. Publications such as The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe have published Schiff’s writing and she is also a guest columnist for The New York Times. She currently lives in New York City.