Emory University’s 41st Annual Jimmy Carter Town Hall Featured Megan Rapinoe, a forward and outspoken social advocate for the US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), was the keynote speaker on September 19. She was greeted by an audience of nearly 2,000 students during the town hall, which was held in person for the first time in three years.
“Being able to speak to such a young group of kids is a great honor for me,” Rapinoe said. “It’s something I really love to do.”
The Carter Town Hall is an annual speech event to welcome freshmen to Emory, though student athletes and leaders were also invited.
Rapinoe is considered one of the most decorated athletes in women’s soccer history with two World Cup wins and an Olympic gold medal to her credit. Off the field, she is widely known for fighting for gender equality and leading the fight to close the gender pay gap between the US men’s and women’s national teams. Rapinoe is also a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ and equality. racial.
Carter Center Executive Director Paige Alexander spoke at the event, noting that Rapinoe’s dedication to social justice aligns with the values of former US President and Jimmy Carter University Distinguished Professor, who is the town hall’s namesake at 97. He spoke at the first 38 town halls but did not attend this past event for the third consecutive year for retirement. His first absence in October 2020 was attributed to the recovery of a brain of November 2019 surgery.
“She has been a true champion on and off the court,” Alexander said. “Looking at the fight that she had for LGBTQIA rights, for women’s equity and pay equity, for human rights in general, it really means that this is part of what the Carter Center is about.”
University president Greg Fenves agreed in introducing Rapinoe, noting his role in leading the USWNT’s years-long legal battle for equal pay with the US men’s national soccer team, which began in March 2019. The US Soccer Federation. established in February, agreeing to pay the men’s and women’s national soccer teams equally.
“Like President Carter, he has played a pivotal role in changing history,” Fenves said.
Rapinoe began her speech by explaining that speaking to Emory’s Class of 2026 brought her back to her first semester at the University of Portland, Oregon, when she was a “wide-eyed” new student.
“It’s just this opportunity where you have a little bit of a safety net, but you’re still obligated and you’re in a situation where you have to ask yourself questions,” Rapinoe said. “I just encourage all of you to be very curious about it, to give yourself the space to answer those questions, to give yourself the space to show yourself as a whole human being in the world.”
An internationally renowned soccer player, Rapinoe noted that a team’s success comes from people learning who they are and unapologetically taking up space.
“The most successful teams are not filled with people who sacrificed everything to be on the team,” Rapinoe said. “It’s full of people who refuse to sacrifice, and they bring whatever their job is, whatever their special talent is, whatever that personality trait is, for the greater good, and they not only bring it themselves, but they allow a space for everyone else to bring that too.”
A question and answer session was held during the second half of the town hall where Barkley Forum members Mia Leutzinger (25C) and Sam Shafiro (25C) asked questions submitted by Rapinoe students.
“She kept looking at me and it made me feel like I was having a conversation with her,” Leutzinger said. “She was amazing. She is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.”
Rapinoe discussed the 2019 World Cup, during which the USWNT beat the Netherlands in the final to secure their second consecutive World Cup title. She said reaching the top felt “surreal.”
“It’s like this childhood dream,” Rapinoe said. “It seems kind of fake in a way. She has lived in your head for so long.”
The 2019 World Cup has arrived Three months after members of the USWNT archived a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer, accusing the governing body of paying women less and subjecting them to more dangerous playing conditions.
Additionally, Rapinoe publicly fell out with former US President Donald Trump after she saying a reporter in June 2019 “I’m not going to the fucking White House” if he won the World Cup. Triumph answered in a series of tweets claiming that while he is a fan of the USWNT, Rapinoe was disrespect “our Country, the White House, or our Flag.” He also criticized her for protesting the US national anthem before the games.
“Megan should WIN before she TALKS!” Triumph tweeted. “Finish the job!”
Rapinoe explained that the controversy made the tournament “unique,” but added that “wetting the president” was one of the best parts of his World Cup victory.
“When a former president gets involved, I think, ‘Are you rooting for the team?’” Rapinoe said. “’You seem to really like her, but you’re getting a little confused by the fact that they’re women, but you like how confident we are. … You wish you could support us.’”
Rapinoe noted that off the field, she is most proud of how her team has harnessed her talents to promote change in the world, especially when it comes to achieving equal pay, which she called a “monumental” achievement.
She added that knowing she will leave women’s soccer in better shape than she faced as a young player will be a “great legacy” for her and her teammates.
“Only knowing that no one else, no other woman who comes up to this federation, who plays a sport in this country, will have to deal with what we did, and knowing that we have it much better than those who came before us, Rapinoe said. “The only reason we were really able to do this and pull it off is because we were standing on the shoulders of so many other women.”
Rapinoe is also known as a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and Transgender inclusion in sport. He explained that in order to break into generally marginalized spaces, queer people must come out as themselves and find a community that can support them. He added that it was also up to straight people to create welcoming environments.
She also noted that it helps to find LGBTQ+ people who have been down the same path before. Although Rapinoe noted that the number of openly queer public figures was rare when she was younger, citing Ellen DeGeneres and Billie Jean King as examples, she said the community has grown in recent years. This includes Rapinoe, who is open about her five-year relationship with WNBA player Sue Bird.
“When we stay small and internal, the stories can go either way and it can feel very lonely,” Rapinoe said. “But I think the more we talk about it, the more we come across as ourselves, the more we demand that space, I think the easier it becomes to get into it.”
Rapinoe explained that her parents, especially her mother, are her main role models. She said her parents “made equal gender roles” without even discussing it, allowing her to grow up in an “equality-driven” home.
Growing up, Rapinoe said that she and her twin sister, Rachael Rapinoe, were popular in school and excelled in sports, eventually playing together in college. However, her mother always made it clear that using her social influence to help others was more important.
“I am very grateful that she has always been like this and lives her life like this, but she also passed it on to my sister and the rest of my brothers,” Rapinoe said.
She noted that students should strive to do the same in their daily lives so that they can use their skills to advocate for change.
“Something I wish someone had told me in college, and I’m coming to that now at the tender age of 37, is that the work we’re supposed to do in life really has nothing to do with the work that we do,” Rapinoe said. “I really encourage all of you, especially as you start your first semester, your first year here, to think about not only what you want to do, but who you want to be in the world, and marry those two.”