Sports icon and equality champion Billie Jean King.
Sports icon and equality champion Billie Jean King.
Photo by Howard Schatz

Billie Jean King headlines USC Annenberg’s 2024 commencement ceremony

Sports icon and equality champion Billie Jean King will deliver the keynote address at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s 2024 commencement ceremony on May 10.

As a world-class athlete and a pathbreaking activist, there are few stories more powerful than King’s. Named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life magazine and the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, King has carved an unparalleled legacy as a renowned tennis player and a pioneer for equal rights and inclusivity. 

“Billie Jean King has used the power of sports, and her towering accomplishments as an athlete, not simply to reflect culture but to shape it,” said USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay. “In doing so, she has revealed a profound understanding of the power of communication as an essential catalyst for change. Her relentless determination, resilience and unwavering dedication to challenging the status quo and advocating for equal opportunity have opened doors for so many of us to enter, including our Class of 2024.”

During her legendary career on the court, King captured 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, including a record 20 Wimbledon championships, ultimately earning a spot in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. 

Off the court, she helped advance the women’s rights movement. In 1972, she testified before Congress, helping pave the way for the passage of Title IX, which ensures all students in educational settings are treated equally and fairly, including in sports. King also founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and became its first president, lobbying for and achieving equal prize money for men and women at the U.S. Open that same year.

King’s campaign for pay equality gained a worldwide audience of more than 90 million when she faced off against and beat self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” on September 20, 1973. One of the greatest moments in sports history, the groundbreaking match is remembered for its cultural and social impact.  

King went on to co-found the inclusive World TeamTennis co-ed tennis league and founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. Most recently, she established the Billie Jean King Foundation,  which supports the next generation of leaders through sports, education and activism.

A native of Southern California, King began playing tennis on Long Beach’s public courts at age 11 using a $8 racquet she purchased herself with money earned from odd jobs. Her SoCal roots were honored in 2019 with the naming of her hometown’s new library the Billie Jean King Main Library. She remains part of the Los Angeles sports ecosystem with ownership stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks.

Among her many achievements, King received France’s highest order of merit, the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, from President Macron, and was inducted into the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee Hall of Fame as a special contributor. King became the first woman to have an annual global team sports event named in her honor when Fed Cup, the women’s world cup of tennis, was rebranded as the Billie Jean King Cup. The National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in honor of her accomplishments on and off the court.

King serves on the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is an adidas Global Ambassador and is the Honorary Lifetime President of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and a past member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. A New York Times best selling author, King published her memoir, ALL IN: An Autobiography, in 2021.

USC Annenberg’s past speakers have included global media leader Oprah Winfrey; founder of culinary brand Momofuku David Chang; media innovator and entrepreneur Maverick Carter; ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott ’15; former First Lady of California and journalist Maria Shriver; television pioneer Norman Lear; Chairman and CEO of BET Networks Debra L. Lee; and anchor for Univision and Fusion Jorge Ramos

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism will honor more than 1,000 candidates for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. USC Annenberg’s commencement ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. on McCarthy Quad following the main USC commencement ceremony, which starts at 8:30 a.m. in Alumni Park.