Tennis’s most lethal service return. 60 tournament wins. 14 triumphs vs. Pete Sampras. 8 grand slam titles. 1 Olympic gold medal. In Andre Agassi’s mind, these accomplishments pale in comparison to what he has been able to accomplish in his second career as an advocate for, and investor in, best-in-class charter schools.
In a rare blend of humor and humility, Agassi shared that his true passion was “taking a bite out of the national issue of education” during last Tuesday’s installment of the Lauren & Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series. When asked whether he would rather face Pete Sampras or the U.S. Public Education system, Agassi wittily responded: “both are pretty ugly. But I’d take on public education. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward…making a difference through education is a Herculean task.”
And take on public education he has, with force. Over the past five years, Agassi has partnered with Bobby Turner W’84 to raise a $175m fund (Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund) used to build charter schools of the highest caliber across the country. “Over the past 5 years, we built 39 charter schools for 18,000 kids and over the next few years we plan to build schools to serve another 18,000 while generating a 17% return for our investors,” said Turner, who introduced Agassi. Turner and Agassi hoped that their investments in charter schools would instill competition that would force public schools, the “last monopoly in the U.S.,” to raise their standards.
In describing his transition from tennis to philanthropy, Agassi also shared his learnings and motivations that gave him the foundation to be such a successful advocate for improvements in the U.S. educational system.
Find What You Love And Do It (Before It’s Too Late): Agassi said that the sport that he spent decades perfecting was a penitentiary of pressure and rising expectations from others that he always wanted to escape. “You are truly going to be unhappy and uncomfortable in your own skin unless you are happy doing what you want to do. Life really does happen and pass you by. That truth will never change.” Following this realization, Agassi has spent a lot of time defining what success has meant to him and him alone, pursuing his dream of changing the lives of children by giving them the gift of education.
Solve The Problem In Front Of You: “In tennis, you don’t have to be the greatest in the world, you just have to beat the one person across the net. Life is the same. I stay focused on my goal and solve the problem in front of me. You just have to keep your eye on the ball… Every time I see a child in a school, I am constantly reminded to stay focused.” said Agassi.
Leave The World A Better Place Than You Found It: “I didn’t care about titles or numbers. I cared about the sport being better off as a result of having me. It’s hard not to look at tennis as a microcosm of life. I want everyone that I’m in contact with to be better off as a result of our time spent together. I want to leave the world a better place.”
Agassi concluded his talk with the humor and humility that permeated his comments throughout. An audience member asked with all his success, what kept him grounded; his instantaneous response – “my wife (Steffi Graf) who will beat me at honestly everything.” [For non-tennis fans reading this, Steffi Graf has 22 Grand Slam Titles, the most of any male or female professional tennis player].