7 lessons from Oprah Winfrey's 2018 commencement speech

01 June 2018 - inspiration

Cover image credit: Leon Bennett, Getty Images

This May, Oprah Winfrey delivered a stirring commencement speech at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Oprah’s speech stood out to us for its relevance in today’s climate—one filled with negativity, a seemingly constant onslaught of bad news, hysteria and false narratives. In her speech, she speaks about fighting cynicism, seeking the truth, what ‘making a difference’ really means, and the pitfalls of comparison. And when Oprah speaks, we listen!

1. On everyday habits and life tips:

“Eat a good breakfast. It really pays off. Pay your bills on time. Recycle. Make your bed. Aim high. Say thank you to people and actually really mean it. Ask for help when you need it, and put your phone away at the dinner table. Just sit on it, really. And know that what you tweet and post and Instagram today might be asked about at a job interview tomorrow, or 20 years from tomorrow.

Be nice to little kids, be nice to your elders, be nice to animals, and know that it’s better to be interested than interesting. Invest in a quality mattress. I’m telling you, your back will thank you later. And don’t cheap out on your shoes. And if you’re fighting with somebody you really love, for god’s sakes find your way back to them because life is short, even on our longest days.

Do the right thing, especially when nobody’s looking. And while I’m at it, 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.”

2. On career fulfillment:

“Your job is not always going to fulfill you. There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway, and remember that your job is not who you are, it’s just what you are doing on the way to who you will become. Every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your ideas—that is going to happen—look for the lessons, because the lessons are always there. And the number one lesson I could offer you where your work is concerned is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.”

3. On how to find your purpose and place in the world:

“The question is: What are you willing to stand for? That question is going to follow you throughout your life. And here’s how you answer it. You put your honor where your mouth is. Put your honor where your mouth is. 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 history 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.”

4. On purpose and making a difference:

“I remember when I just opened my school in 2007, I came back and I had the great joy of sitting at Maya Angelou’s table. And I said to her, ‘Oh Maya, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, that’s going to be my greatest legacy.’ She looked at me and she said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy will be.’ I said, ‘Excuse me? I just opened this school and these girls, and it’s going to be… ‘ And she said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy will be, because your legacy is every life you touch. Every life you touch.’

[So] pick a problem, any problem, and do something about it. Because to somebody who’s hurting, something is everything.”

5. On discernment and seeking the truth:

“This is what I do know for sure because I’ve been doing it a long time: 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. And you can confront your bias and you can build your credibility and hone your instincts and compound your compassion. You can use your gifts—that’s what you’re really here to do—to illuminate the darkness in our world.”

6. On fighting cynicism:

“You can’t fix everything and you can’t save every soul. But what can you do? Here and now I believe you have to declare war on one of our most dangerous enemies, and that is cynicism. Because when that little creature sinks its hooks into you, it’ll cloud your clarity, it’ll compromise your integrity, it’ll lower your standards, it’ll choke your empathy.

And sooner or later, cynicism shatters your faith. When you hear yourself saying, “Ah, it doesn’t matter what one person says, oh well, so what, it doesn’t matter what I do, who cares?” When you hear yourself saying that, know that you’re on a collision course for our culture. And I understand how it’s so easy to become disillusioned, so tempting to allow apathy to set in, because anxiety is being broadcast on 157 channels, 24 hours a day, all night long. And everyone I know is feeling it.

But these times, these times, are here to let us know that we need to take a stand for our right to have hope and we need to take a stand with every ounce of wit and courage we can muster.”

7. On comparison:

“And finally, this: This will save you. Stop comparing yourself to other people. You’re only on this planet to be you, not someone else’s imitation of you. Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. That’s why you’re here. You will do that through your work and your art, through your relationships and love.”

What are your favourite commencement speeches of all time? Inspire us at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team