Full text of Oprah Winfrey’s commencement speech Colorado College. This event occurred on May 19, 2019.
Oprah Winfrey – Talk show host
I got to say that’s a full-circle moment for me. And I just like to take a moment to thank Jesus, and the ancestors and do a little happy dance. Hello! Because I brought 20 girls to the United States. This is my 19th and final graduation today.
19 graduations in the past 3 years, and what’s interesting is… no, 17 graduations and 2 baccalaureates, because I had three, twice in one day in 3 different cities and couldn’t get to all three cities in one day.
So to be here and have you beautiful Palesa; I know where you’ve come from. I know what the blossoming has been here at CC. It gives me such pride and fills me with such joy to see you becoming the woman that you are.
So thank you for that beautiful introduction. And thank you… full circle moment.
Thank you President Tiefenthaler… Tiefenthaler thank you so much.
Good morning Class of 2019.
I’m here for Palesa and I’m here for you. This is my second time. Two years ago, I was here. One of my other daughters, Avakeil [ph], graduated two years ago from CC, and I was back there freezing like everybody else is right now, including a gentleman I saw in the elevator who said don’t mention my name, I will not. Who’d gone back in to change clothes and I thought I’m going to – I am on a cute little white dress and then I thought I’m going to freeze my buns off, so thank you gentleman in the elevator.
I especially appreciate and resonate with your class motto. The quote from Angela Davis which says:
“You have to act as if it’s possible to radically transform the world and you have to do that all the time.”
I’m here to tell you that you actually do get to transform the world every day by your actions. Small steps lead to big accomplishments.
I’m here to tell you that your life isn’t some big break like everybody thinks it is, or waiting on the big break. It’s actually about taking one significant life-transforming step at a time.
So you can pick a problem, literally any problem, the list is long, because there’s gun violence and economic inequality, and there’s media bias, and the homeless need opportunity, and the addicted need treatment, and the dreamers need protection, the prison system needs to be reformed, the social safety net needs saving, misogyny needs to stop.
And the truth is you cannot fix everything.
But what you can do here and now is make a decision. Because life is about decisions, and the decision is that you will use your life in service. You will be in service to life and you will speak up. You will show up, you will stand up, you will sit in. You will volunteer, you will vote, you will shout out, you will help.
You will lend a hand. You will offer your talent and your kindness, however you can, and you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in, which leads to bigger moments.
Because the truth is, success is a process. You can ask anybody who’s been successful. I just passed and saw walking up the lane here, successful entrepreneur and restaurateur Danny Meyer, who’s sitting back there with his family there. Charles is graduating today.
But here’s the truth. Ask Danny or anybody who’s successful. you go to any one of his restaurants: Shake Shack, love it, Union Square, Gramercy Tavern. And you will be impressed by not only the food, which you have to do that if you’re at restaurant, but by the radical hospitality and service.
And so service is not just about when you’re getting served, it’s truly everything. I started my talk show, I was just so happy to be on television.
And I was one day interviewing members of the Ku Klux Klan. I thought I was interviewing them so that I could expose their vitriol to the world. I saw those giving signals to each other in the audience and I thought: ‘hmm, something’s going on here’ and I realize, they were using me… they were using the platform for themselves.
So I said to my producers afterwards, I’m not going to do that anymore. Then we did a show where someone was embarrassed and it was my fault. I was responsible for the embarrassment. For some crazy reason we talked a man who was cheating on his wife to come to the show with the woman he was cheating on and his wife. And he said yes.
And while they’re on live television, he says to his wife, that his girlfriend is pregnant. That happened on my watch. And when that happened, shortly after I had interviewed the Klan, and experienced that, I said I’m not going to do that again.
So I started to ask the question: how can I use the show to not just be a show but to allow it to be a service to the viewer. And that question of how do we serve the viewer, transform the show?
And because we asked that question every single day, from 1989 forward, with the intention of only doing what was in service to the people who were watching. It is why no matter where I go in the world, on any given day somebody comes up to me and says: “I watched your show; it changed my life”, “I’ve been watching since I was 5 years old, until I went from DVR to VCRs, to now streaming people watch and were raised by that show.”
I did a good job of raising a lot of people, I must say. And that happened because of an intention to be of service.
So I live in this space of radical love and gratitude. Truly, I feel the most beautiful life that you can imagine. I sit around trying to think of who could have a better life. And I will tell you whatever you imagine my life to be like, I wonder what Oprah’s doing right now. It’s always ten times better than whatever you think.
It’s true, and it’s not because I have wealth, which is great. Money is fabulous, I love it. And I get a lot of attention, that’s also good, sometimes.
But it’s because I had appreciation for the small steps, the seeds that were planted, the map and flow of my life that unfolded, because I was paying attention. You have to pay attention to your life, because it is speaking to you all the time.