7 Life Lessons From Oprah Winfrey’s USC Commencement Speech

The media mogul spoke at the Annenberg School's graduation this week.

Speaking at the commencement ceremony of University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Friday, Oprah Winfrey offered both some good news and bad news to the graduates. Starting with the later, because, as the media mogul noted, she likes to get that part out of the way first, Winfrey outlines the divisions and cynicism that seem to have permeated our culture. However, she spent the majority of her speech emphatically reminding the individuals listening that neither is an excuse to not take action. 

"Pick a problem, any problem, and do something about it. Because to somebody who's hurting, something is everything," she said in her keynote speech that lasted a little over 20 minutes. 


As Winfrey explained, one of the students from her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa was graduating Annenberg with her masters this year, so she joked she would have been at the ceremony anyway, but she was still happy that she was invited to speak. 

And as Winfrey has proven time and again, her speeches have a way of inspiring the most cynical (when not inspiring rumors of 2020 presidential run). Below, check out some of the best life lessons gleaned from Winfrey's commencement address.

1. Voting is not only an individual’s right, but is a celebration of those who fought to bring that right to others.

"I hesitate to say this, because the rumors from my last big speech have finally died down, but here it is. Vote. Vote. Vote. Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf. They represent you and if they've not done right by you or if their policies are at odds with your core beliefs, then you have a responsibility to send them packing. If they go low, thank you Michelle Obama, if they go low, we go to the polls. People died for that right, they died for that right. I think about it every time I vote. So don't let their sacrifices be in vain."

2. One of the best ways to grow as an individual is through hearing the stories of others.

"If you can just capture the humanity of the people of the stories you're telling, you then get that much closer to your own humanity."

3. Don’t buy into hysteria; use it as momentum to continue fighting for what you believe is right.

"The problem is everybody is meeting hysteria with more hysteria and then we're all becoming hysterical and it's getting worse. What I've learned all these years is that we're not supposed to match it or even get locked into resisting or pushing against it. We're supposed to see this moment in time for what it is. We're supposed to see through it and then transcend it."

Oprah Winfrey campaigns for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama at UCLA in Los Angeles, California.. Shutterstock / Krista Kennell

4. Never forget the power of truth.

"The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption, our shield against greed and despair. The truth is our saving grace."

5. You have no idea what your legacy will be, but you can keep showing up and doing the work.

"When you give your word, keep it. Show up. Do the work. Get your hands dirty. And then you'll begin to draw strength from the understanding that is still being written. You're writing it every day. The wheels still in spin. And what you do or what you don't do will be a part of it. You build a legacy not from one thing but from everything."

6. Strive for something more than fame and money.

"Do not equate money and fame with accomplishment and character, because I can assure you based on the thousands of people I've interviewed, one does not automatically follow the other."

7. Be your true self.

"Stop comparing yourself to other people. You're only on this planet to be you, not someone else's imitation of you."


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