Ohh my goodness! I’m at Haaaaaarvard!” That’s how Oprah Winfrey began her speech at yesterday’s Harvard University graduation ceremony—in her spirited, signature way.
“Not too many girls from rural Mississippi have made it all the way here to Cambridge,” she said of the honor of speaking at the Massachusetts-based college. “I consider today to be a defining milestone in a very long and blessed journey.” Winfrey also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the university before taking to the podium.
Winfrey had plenty of inspiring words for the Class of 2013 (she even joked about wishing she could tell everyone to look under their seats to find a free master’s and doctoral degree), and also touched on political issues like gun control, immigration, and public education. “We all know that we are better than the cynicism and the pessimism that is regurgitated throughout Washington and the 24-hour cable news cycle,” she said.
But the media mogul spent most of her 30-minute speech advising the new graduates on how best to navigate the next chapter of their lives. “My one hope today is that I can be a source of some inspiration,” she said. “I’m going to address my remarks to anybody who’s ever felt inferior, disadvantaged or screwed by life.” Read on for the five most inspiring quotes from Winfrey’s speech.
On the good that came come from failure.
“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point, you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher and higher, the law of averages predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. Now, when you’re down there in the hole, it looks like failure. When that moment comes, it’s okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost. But then, here’s the key: Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are.”
On her own biggest personal failure.
“The Oprah Winfrey Show was number one in our spot for 21 years, and I have to tell you, I became pretty comfortable with that level of success. But a couple of years ago, I decided, as you will at some point, that it was time to recalculate, find new territory, and break new ground. So I ended the show and launched OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. One year later, after launching OWN, nearly every media outlet had proclaimed that my new venture was a flop … I can still remember the day I opened up USA Today and read the headline, ‘Oprah: Not Quite Standing On Her OWN’ … It really was the worst period in my professional life. I was stressed and I was frustrated, and quite frankly, I was embarrassed … Then the words came to me, ‘trouble don’t last always,’ from an old hymn. This too shall pass. And I thought, I am going to turn this thing around and I will be better for it. And I am here to tell you that I have turned that network around.”
On what makes the class of 2013 unique.
“Your class will be armed with more tools of influence and empowerment than any other generation in history. I did it in an analog world. I was blessed with a platform that, at its height, reached nearly 20 million viewers a day. Now, here in a world of Youtube and Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, you can reach billions in just seconds. You’re the generation that rejected predictions about your detachment and disengagement by showing up to vote in record numbers in 2008. And the pundits said you’d be too disappointed and too dejected to repeat that same kind of turnout in the 2012 election, and you proved them wrong by showing up in even greater numbers. That’s who you are.”
On the common thread of all the interviews she’s conducted during her career.
“The single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience. The common denominator I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, and inevitably in their own way, everyone asks this question: ‘Was that okay?’ I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama, I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives, I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce in all her Beyonce-ness … They all want to know: ‘Was that okay? Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did what I said mean anything to you?’”
On the key to success and happiness.
“You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: To fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being.