Harvard Gets The Oprah Treatment

The nine best bits from Oprah's commencement speech to Crimson grads.

After receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from Harvard Thursday morning, Oprah Winfrey spoke at Harvard’s commencement, addressing a sea of black and crimson red. From explaining her network’s initial flop to her views on gun-control politicking and coining the term “Beyoncéness,” Oprah prompted laughter and tears from her audience, which included grads from the class of 1940 all the way down to the newest alumni of 2013. A highlight of the best bits from the queen of talk’s Ivy League advice:


1. “It was either that or a bag of Oreos.”

In the midst of ridicule about Oprah’s OWN network not living up to expectations, Harvard President Drew Faust called Oprah and asked her to speak at commencement. She wondered how she could talk to a room of Ivy Leaguers about success, when she hardly felt successful herself, despite her $2.7 billion net worth. To clear her head, she decided to take a shower—instead of indulging in large quantities of Oreo cookies. Eventually, she “turned that network around.”

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2. “Not too many girls from rural Mississippi have made it all the way here to Cambridge.”

Oprah went back to her Mississippi roots and slipped into a Southern accent to tell the story of starting on television at age 19, and how it helped her become the Oprah she is today.

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3. “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in a different direction.”

Though for Harvard students, “failure” may not be a familiar word, Oprah encouraged the recent grads to learn from their mistakes.

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4. “Build a résumé that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but who you want to be.”

The 11th-most powerful woman in the world said her eyes do spread a little wider if she reads “HAHvard” under the education heading of a résumé. But building a résumé is more than that. Oprah told the grads to make it a story, “a story that is about your purpose.”

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5. “We all want to be validated.”

“Was that OK?” Oprah mimicked. On her show, after every interview, she will always be asked some form of that question—whether it’s from the mouth of President Obama, a housewife or Beyoncé, who oozes confidence in all her “Beyoncéness.” This question taught her that all people need to be validated to feel successful. Oprah giggled at the end as she brought her speech full circle and asked, “Was that OK?”

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6. “There has to be a way that this darkness can be banished with light.”

In an interview with a family who had lost a son in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, Oprah learned about one family’s struggle to come to terms with the death. The family would not give up, despite recent gun-control laws being shot down. Rather they will continue to fight for good to come out of a terrible situation.

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7. “You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up.”

No matter what challenges or setbacks, Oprah said, success relies on having the ability to come out of the hard times.

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8. “What the world needs is people who have come alive.”

When people do what they love, the television mogul said, they come alive in their work. She said it is important to “ask yourself what makes you alive” and flock to whatever that is.

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9. “I have faith that no matter what, class of 2013, you will be OK and you will make sure we’re all OK.”

Oprah ended her speech with congratulations and expressed her excitement for the future and for the young people who will lead it—including those lucky, beaming Harvard grads in the audience.

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