“The first year of college is the time to give yourself permission to discover who you are, what interests you, and how you want to present yourself to the world.”
at 41St. Annual Carter Town Hall, Megan Rapinoe encouraged Emory students to be themselves, be kind to others, and use their voices to further the greater good.
The Carter Town Hall began in 1982 at the urging of President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, with the intention of inspiring freshmen. From the beginning, he promised that the students could ask anything without him seeing the questions ahead of time and that he would answer all the questions. For nearly four decades, Carter delivered on that promise, fielding questions about everything from how he would address conflicts in the Middle East in 21St. century to if I would ever eat almond butter.
As Carter retires, others who embody his commitment to human rights have been called in to deliver the keynote address. In 2020, grandson Jason Carter, chairman of the Carter Center and a member of the Georgia State Senate, answered questions from the class of 2024. Last year, former United Nations ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young students encouraged the Class of 2025 to cross the political aisle.
This year, two months after receiving the Presidential Medal of the Freedom for her efforts to ensure pay equity for female soccer players, Rapinoe candidly answered questions from the Class of 2026 about risking her reputation and career for her convictions.
Rapinoe is the forward of the OL reign women’s soccer team, based in Tacoma, Washington. She grew up the youngest of six children in Redding, California, and began playing soccer as a child along with her twin sister Rachael and her brother Brian. Megan and Rachael earned soccer scholarships to play at the University of Portland, where the team won the NCAA women’s championship their freshman year.
In college, Rapinoe caught the eye of the US Women’s National Team (USWNT), and today she is one of the most recognizable soccer players in the world. As a member of the USWNT, she helped win the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments and was awarded the Golden Boot in 2019. Rapinoe also helped Team USA win gold against Japan at the Games. London 2012 Olympics.
Off the field, Rapinoe has been a fierce advocate for many social justice issues. She took a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement. She has spoken out against laws that prohibit transgender youth from playing sports. And, at the 2022 ESPY Awards, in her speech for winning Best Play, she called for the safe return of WNBA player and Black Lives Matter activist Brittney Griner from Russia.
In particular, Rapinoe and his teammates sued the US Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender pay inequality under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For context, FIFA set aside $400 million in total prize money for the 2018 Men’s World Cup, including $38 million for the winning team from France. For the entire 2019 women’s tournament, only $30 million was set aside and only $4 million went to the winning team from the United States.
Earlier this year, the women’s team reached a $24 million settlement with USSF. The deal includes late payment of prize money from the previous World Cup and commits that male and female players will be paid at the same rate, including future World Cup bonuses. The agreement also requires US Soccer to provide the same number of charter flights to both teams, as well as equal quality venues and playing surfaces for the men’s and women’s teams.
Rapinoe shares her life story and fight for equality in her 2020 autobiography “One Life,” which is a New York Times bestseller.
Before starting to answer questions from the audience, Rapinoe joked, “My motto is [to] follow the children around. You always know what’s going on.”
“Now I know how to use BeReal,” he said, referring to the popular photo-sharing app.
A hero’s welcome
The 2022 Carter Town Hall was held in the gym at the Woodruff PE Center and on Zoom, with nearly 2,000 people in attendance. It began with an introduction on the importance of the event by Enku Gelaye, Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life.
Paige Alexander, CEO of The Carter Center, followed. Alexander’s son plays soccer for the Emory men’s team. She mentioned that Rapinoe’s activism on and off the field sparked many conversations over dinner at her home.
“Megan has been a true champion on and off the court,” Alexander said. “For us, looking at the fight that she’s had for LGBTQIA rights, for women’s equity and pay equity, for human rights in general, it really means that this is what The Carter Center is all about.”
Following Alexander’s comments, Emory President Gregory L. Fenves introduced Rapinoe. He noted that over the years, Carter Town Hall has deeply impacted thousands of students. He also said that Rapinoe stands on Carter’s shoulders through his courage, compassion and convictions.
“Megan Rapinoe has made an impact as a world-class athlete and powerful social activist,” Fenves said. “Through her advocacy, Megan has championed issues of racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and gender equity, tackling the fight for equal pay for women in professional sports head-on. Like President Carter, she has played a critical role in changing history.”
As Rapinoe took the stage, she began by telling the Emory freshmen that anything is possible. He shared some anecdotes and tidbits that he wished he had known in college.
He also talked about his journey of coming out in his freshman year, as well as what he’s learned about teamwork throughout his career.
“The most effective teams are not the ones where people sacrifice everything to be on the team,” Rapinoe said. “It’s full of people who refuse to sacrifice, and bring whatever their job is, whatever their special talents are, whatever personality traits they have for the greater good… When everyone starts coming across as themselves, whole, now you’re getting into the magic.
She also detailed the arduous fight that she and her colleagues waged for equal pay. Rapinoe recalled being scared and discouraged many times, but she said, “We had to win.” She also emphasized the importance of the 20 other people she supported during the lawsuit and how that process changed her perspective.
“One thing I wish someone had told me in college, and now I’m reaching the tender age of 37, is that the work we’re supposed to do in life really has nothing to do with your work.” . Rapinoe said.
“Think about not just what you want to do, but who you want to be in the world and marry those two,” she continued. “That is your job in the world. How do you present yourself to other people, how do you use that special talent that you have, that special something, that thing that you are passionate about to ultimately affect the world in a positive way. I truly believe that everyone has a responsibility to make the world a better place in whatever way they can be most effective.”