Education is very important in my family. As I rose through the ranks of junior tennis and made the decision to turn pro, the unwavering expectation from my family was that I would complete my college education and have this investment in myself to rely on after I retire one day.
2017 was a busy year for me on and off the court. I spent most of the year rehabbing from a foot surgery and my life as a professional tennis player felt very uncertain. While I knew I would fight my way back and return to the tour when my body was ready, anyone who has gone through recovery from an injury or surgery knows that you aren’t fully in control of that timing. I always try to find the positive in a situation, and decided to make the most of this period by increasing my course load for my online B.A. in Communication Studies from Indiana University East. The WTA has a partnership with IU East to offer WTA players the opportunity to complete degrees while on tour. We’re trendsetters and were making online education a thing before its time! After winning the US Open that September, I rushed to take final exams and complete my coursework in order to graduate in December.
I thought I was done with school at that point. I was proud of my Bachelor’s degree and excited to get back to work…until I received an email from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee offering US Olympians a full tuition scholarship. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - if it’s free, it’s for me! Back to school I went to complete my MBA at DeVry University. This time around, we were mid-pandemic and I had a lot of time at home to make some major progress on my degree before the Tour picked back up again. I graduated with my MBA in December 2020. Thank you again, Team USA!
As the founder of the Sloane Stephens Foundation, I want to be a strong role model and positive example for the 10,000+ students we work with in Compton and across the country. Online school was an incredible challenge for so many students during the pandemic, especially underserved students who lack access to the technology, wifi, or support to excel in that setting. I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to have tennis and education change their life, so it was very important to me to show my SSF kids that we were in this together. They were navigating Zoom school, I was navigating Zoom school. We figured out how to navigate tools like Blackboard and Google Drive together and kept each other accountable and motivated.
I have a lot of nostalgia for graduation season. I love celebrating people’s successes. Every photo on my timeline of someone’s cute photoshoot in a cap and gown will get a like from me. Graduations are both an end and a beginning, it’s a time to get in your feelings to reflect on where you’ve come from, and where you’re going. I am incredibly proud of all the current grads who have navigated the past few years. I’m sure that your experience was different than you expected it to be, but I am so proud of you for persevering and writing your own unique story. Amidst all the celebrating, please remember to take some moments for self-care, relaxation, and reflection on all that you have achieved!
I love watching commencement speeches online and finding some good nuggets of wisdom. I pulled some quotes that have stayed with me and have linked to the full speeches for your viewing pleasure.