Billie Jean King Surprises Graduating Senior

Billie Jean King Surprises Graduating Senior

On the night before her graduation from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, Brooke Rischbieth received the best gift ever: A visit from Billie Jean King.

Just before King was about to sit down for a one-on-one video interview and perform a sound check for the commencement address she would deliver the next day, the sports icon walked in on an interview with Rischbieth, an Australian native, a social policy major a and member of the Northwestern women’s tennis team.

Through teary eyes, Rischbieth hugged King and introduced her to her exuberant parents standing by. The two sat down and talked about life after college and how to stay true to oneself.

“‘Keep it simple’ is really major,” King said. “Just remember your values. Love not hate, treat others the way they would like to be treated and just do the right thing. It’s not rocket science, really.”

Growing up in Australia, Rischbieth had always wanted to play football or cricket with the boys but was told she couldn’t play because she was a girl. When she learned of King’s success in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs, she was not only drawn to King for her tennis skills but also her ability to fight for women’s equality.

Ironically, Rischbieth’s love of tennis prevented the Northwestern senior from meeting the tennis legend and equal rights advocate when she had the chance last summer.

“I was interning at Goldman Sachs and Billie Jean King was coming to speak at an event, but I couldn’t make it because I had really important tennis match to get to,” Rischbieth said. “If I ever got to meet her in person, I would freak out.”

And did she ever! 

“You inspire so many people across every walk of life, not just tennis, not just in the business world, LGBT communities,” Rischbieth said. “I can’t tell you how special you are to so many people.”

King responded with a humble "thank you" and turned the tables back on Rischbieth.

“I appreciate that, but it’s your turn now,” King said. “You’re the future. You’re gonna shape the future now. For all of us, really."

By Kristin Samuelson
Last Modified: 6/20/17