oh my goodness Wow the president Foust my fellow honor ons Karl that was so beautiful thank you so much and James Rothenberg Stephanie Wilson Harvard faculty with a special bow to my friend dr. Henry Louis Gates all of you alumni with a special bow to the class of 88 115 million dollars and to you members of the Harvard class of 2013 hello I thank you for allowing me to be a part of the conclusion of this chapter of your lives and the commencement of your next chapter to say that I'm honored doesn't even begin to quantify the depth


of gratitude that really accompanies an honorary Doctorate from Harvard not too many little girls from rural Mississippi have made it all the way here to Cambridge and I can tell you that I consider today as I sat on the stage this morning getting teary for you all and then teary for myself I consider today a defining milestone in a very long and a blessed journey my one hope today is is to is that I can be a source of some inspiration I'm going to address my remarks to anybody who's ever felt inferior or felt disadvantaged felt screwed by life this is a speech for the quad actually I was so honored I wanted to do


something really special for you I wanted to be able to have you look under your seats and there would be free free a master and doctoral degrees but I see I see you got that covered already I will be honest with you I felt a lot of pressure over the past few weeks to come up with something that I could share with you that you hadn't heard before because after all y'all went to Harvard I did not but then I realize that you don't have to necessarily go to Harvard to have a driven obsessive type-a personality but it helps and while I may not have graduated from here I admit that my personality is about as Harvard as they come you know my my television


career began unexpectedly as you heard this morning I was in the Miss fire-prevention contest that was when I was 16 years old in Nashville Tennessee and you had the requirement of having to have red hair in order to win up until the year that I entered so they were doing the question and answer period because I knew I wasn't going to win in the swimsuit competition so during the question and answer period the question came why young lady what would you like to be when you grow up and by the time they got to me all the good answers were gone so I had seen Barbara Walters on The Today Show that morning so I answered I would like to be a journalist


I would like to tell other people's stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world and as those words were coming out of my mouth I went whoa pretty good I would like to be a journalist I want to make a difference well I was on television by the time I was 19 years old and in 1986 I launched my own television show with a relentless determination to succeed at first I was nervous about the competition and then I became no competition raising the bar every year pushing pushing pushing myself as hard as I knew sound familiar to anybody here eventually we did make it to the top and we stayed there for 25


years The Oprah Winfrey Show was number one in our timeslot for 21 years and I have to tell you I became pretty comfortable with that level of success but a few years ago I decided as you will at some point that it was time to recalculate find new territory break new ground so I ended the show and launched own the Oprah Winfrey Network initials just worked out for me so one year later after launching on nearly every media outlet had proclaimed that my new venture was a flop not just a flop but a big bold flop they call it I can still remember the day I opened up USA Today and read the headline Oprah not quite standing on her own


I mean really USA Today now that's the nice newspaper it really was this time last year the worst period in my professional life I was stressed and I was frustrated and quite frankly I was I was actually I was embarrassed it was right around that time the president first called and asked me to speak here and I thought you want me to speak to Harvard graduates what I what could I possibly say to Harvard Graduate some of the most successful graduates in the world in the very moment when I had stopped succeeding so I got off the phone with president vows and I went to the shower it was either that or a bag of Oreos so I chose the shower and I was


in the shower a long time and as I was in the shower the words of an old hymn came to me you may not know it it's bye-bye when the morning comes and I started thinking about when the morning might come because at the time I thought I was stuck in a hole and the words came to me trouble trouble don't last always from that him this too shall pass and I thought as I got out of the shower I am going to turn this thing around and I will be better for it and when I do I'm gonna go to Harvard and I'm gonna speak the truth of it so I'm here today to tell you I have turned that Network around


and it was all because I wanted to do it by the time I got to speak to you all so thank you so much you don't know what motivation you were for me thank you I'm even prouder to share a fundamental truth that you might not have learned even as graduates of Harvard unless you studied the ancient Greek hero with Professor Nagy professor Naja as we were coming in this morning said please Miss Winfrey walk decisively I shall walk decisively this is what I want to share it doesn't matter how far you might rise at some point you are bound to stumble because if you're constantly doing what we do raising the bar if you are constantly pushing yourself higher


higher the law of averages not to mention the myth of Icarus predicts that you will at some point fall and when you do I want you to know this 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 a hole it looks like failure so this past year I had to spoon-feed those words to myself and when you're down in the hole when that moment comes it's really 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 encounter and particularly


your mistakes are there to cheat you and force you into being more of who you are and then figure out what is the next right move and the key to life is to develop an internal moral emotional GPS that can tell you which way to go because now and forevermore when you google yourself your search results will read javed 2013 and in a very competitive world that really is a calling card because I can tell you as one who employs a lot of people when I see Harvard I sit up a little straight and say where is he or she bring them in it's an impressive calling card that can lead to even more impressive bullets in the years ahead


lawyer senator CEO scientists physicists winners of Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes or late-night talk show hosts but the challenge of life I have found is to build a resume that doesn't simply tell a story about what you want to be but it's a story about who you want to be it's a resume that doesn't just tell a story about what you want to accomplish but why a story that's not just a collection of titles and positions but a story that's really about your purpose because when you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole that is the story that will get you out what is your true calling what is your Dharma what is your purpose


for me that discovery came in 1994 when I interviewed a little girl who who had decided to collect pocket change in order to help other people in need she raised a thousand dollars all by herself and I thought what a nine-year-old girl with a bucket and a big heart to do that I wonder what I could do so I asked for our viewers to take up their own change collection and in one month just from pennies and nickels and dimes we raise more than three million dollars that we used to send one student from every state in the United States to college that was the beginning of the Angel Network and so what I did was I simply asked our viewers do what you can


wherever you are from wherever you sit in life give me your time or your talent your money if you have it and they did extend yourself in kindness to other human beings wherever you can and together we built 55 schools in 12 different countries and restored nearly 300 homes that were devastated by Hurricane Rita and Katrina so the angel Network I've been on the air for a long time but it was the angel Network that actually focused my internal GPS it helped me to decide that I wasn't just going to be on TV every day but that the goal of my shows my interviews my business my philanthropy all of it whatever ventures I might pursue would


be to make clear that what unites us is ultimately far more redeeming and compelling than anything that separates me because what had become clear to me and I want you to know it isn't always clear in the beginning because as I said I've been on television since I was 19 years old but around 94 I got really clear so don't expect the clarity to come all at once to know your purpose right away but what became clear to me was that I was here on earth to use television and not be used by it to use television to illuminate the transcendent power of our better angels so this angel network it didn't just change the lives of those who were


helped but the lives of those who also did the helping it reminders that no matter who we are or what we look like or what we may believe it is both possible and more importantly it becomes powerful to come together in common purpose and common effort I saw something on the bill more show recently that so reminded me of this point it was an interview with David and Francine wheeler they lost their seven-year-old son Ben in the Sandy Hook tragedy and even though gun safety legislation to strengthen background checks had just been voted down in Congress at the time that they were doing this interview they


talked about how they refused to be discouraged Francine said this she said our hearts are broken but our spirits are not I'm going to tell them what it's like to find a conversation about change that is love and I'm going to do that without fighting them and then her husband David added this you simply cannot demonize or vilify someone who doesn't agree with you because the minute you do that your discussion is over and we cannot do that any longer the problem is too enormous there has to be some way that this darkness can be banished with light in our political system and in the media we often see the reflection of a country that is


polarized that is paralyzed and is self-interests did and yet I know you know the truth we all know that we are better than the citizen and the pessimism that is regurgitated throughout Washington and the 24-hour cable news cycle not my channel by the way we understand that the vast majority of people in this country believe in stronger background checks because they realize that we can uphold the Second Amendment and also reduce the violence that is robbing us of our children they don't have to be incompatible and we understand that most Americans believe in a clear path to citizenship


for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who reside in this country because it's possible to both enforce our laws and at the same time embrace the words on the Statue of Liberty that have welcomed generations of huddled masses to our shores we can do both and we understand I know you do because you went to Harvard that people from both parties and no party believe that indigent mothers and families should have access to healthy food and a roof over their heads and a strong public education because here in the richest nation on earth we can afford a basic level of security and opportunity so the question is what are we going to do


about it really what are you going to do about it maybe you agree with these beliefs maybe you don't maybe you care about these issues or maybe there are other challenges that you class of 2013 are passionate about maybe you want to make a difference by serving in government maybe you want to launch your own television show or maybe you simply want to collect some change your parents would appreciate that about now the point is your generation is charged with this task of breaking through what the body politic has thus far made impervious to change each of you has been blessed with this enormous


opportunity of attending this prestigious school you now have a chance to better your life the lives of your neighbors and also the life of our country when you do that let me tell you what I know for sure that's when your story gets really good Maya Angelou always says when you learn teach when you get give that my friends is what gives your story purpose and meaning so you all have the power in your own way to develop your own angel Network and in doing so 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 Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and tumblr you can reach billions in just seconds you're the generation that rejected predictions about your detachment in your disengagement by showing up to vote in record numbers in 2008 and when the pump that's when the pundits said they said they talked about you they said you'd be too disappointed you'd be 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 this generation your generation I know


has developed a finely honed radar for BS can you say BS at Harvard the spin and phony nests and artificial nastiness that saturates so much of our national debate I know you all understand better than most that real progress requires authentic an authentic way of being honesty and above all empathy I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there is a common denominator in our human experience most of us I tell you we don't want to be divided what we want the common denominator that 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 everyone always turns to be and inevitably in their own way ask 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 and all of her Beyonce nests she finishes performer hands me the microphone and says was that okay friends and family yours enemies strangers in every argument in every encounter every exchange I will


tell you they all want to know one thing was that okay did you hear me do you see me did what I say mean anything to you and even though this is the college where Facebook was born my hope is that you would try to go out and have more face-to-face conversations with people you may disagree with that you'll have the courage to look them in the eye and hear their point of view and help make sure that the speed and distance and anonymity of our world doesn't cause us to lose our ability to stand in somebody else's shoes and recognize all that we share as a people this is imperative for you as an individual and for our success as a


nation there has to be some way that this darkness can be banished with light says the man whose little boy was massacred on just an ordinary Friday in December so whether you call it soul or spirit or higher self intelligence there is I know this there's a light inside each of you all of us that illuminates your very human being miss if you let it and as a young girl from rural Mississippi I learned long ago that being myself was much easier than pretending to be Barbara Walters although when I first started because I had Barbara in my head I would try to sit like Barbara talk like Bob remove like Barbara and then one night I was on


the news reading the news and I call Canada Canada and that was the end of me being Barbara I cracked myself up on TV couldn't stop laughing and my real personality came through and I figured out oh gee I can be a much better Oprah than I could be a pretend Barbara I know that I know that you all might have a little anxiety now and hesitation about leaving the comfort of college and putting those Harvard credentials to the test but no matter what challenges or setbacks or disappointments you may encounter along the way 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 your self as a human being you want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up your family and the people around you theologian Howard Thurman said it best he said don't ask yourself what the world needs ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive the world needs people like Michael stalls and Berg from Fort Lauderdale when Michael was just 8 years old Michael nearly died from a bacterial infection that cost him both of his


hands and both of his feet and in an instant this vibrant little boy became a quadruple amputee and his life was changed forever but in losing who he once was Michael discovered who he wanted to be he refused to sit in that wheelchair all day and feel sorry for himself so with prosthetics he learned to walk and run and play again he joined his middle school lacrosse team and last month when he learned that so many victims of the Boston Marathon bombing would become new amputees Michael decided to banish that darkness with light Michael and his brother Harris created Mikey's run comm to raise 1 million


dollars for other amputees by the time Harris runs the 2014 Boston Marathon more than a thousand miles away from here these two young Brothers are bringing people together to support this Boston community the way their community came together to support Michael and when this thirteen year old man was asked about his fellow amputees he said this first they will be sad they're losing something they will never get back and that's scary I was scared but they'll be okay they just don't know that yet we might not always know it we might not always see it or hear it on the news or even feel


it in our daily lives but I have faith that no matter what class of twenty thousand thirteen you will be okay and you will make sure our country is okay I have faith because of that nine year old girl who went out and collected the change I have faith because of David and Francine wheeler I have faith because of Michael and Harris Stoltenberg and I have faith because of you the network of angels sitting here today one of them Khadija Williams who came to Harvard four years ago Khadija had attended 12 schools in 12 years living out of garbage bags amongst pimps and prostitutes and drug dealers homeless


going into department stores Walmart in the morning to bathe herself so that she wouldn't smell in front of her classmates and today she graduates as a member of the Harvard class of 2013 from time to time you may stumble fall you will for sure count on this no doubt you will have questions and you will have doubts about your path but I know this if you're willing to listen to be guided by that still small voice that is the GPS within yourself to find out what makes you come alive you will be more than okay you will be happy you will be successful and you will make a difference in the world congratulations class of 2013

Key Themes, Chapters & Summary

Key Themes

  • Gratitude

  • Personal Growth and Resilience

  • Finding One's Purpose (Dharma)

  • The Power of Serving Others

  • Empathy and Authenticity

  • Resilience and the Human Spirit

  • Pursuing Passion and Making a Difference


  • Introduction and Gratitude

  • Journey to Success

  • Overcoming Challenges

  • Discovering Purpose

  • The Impact of Philanthropy

  • The Importance of Empathy and Authenticity

  • Resilience Through Adversity

  • Encouragement and Final Reflections


Oprah Winfrey's commencement speech at Harvard in 2013 is a powerful and inspiring narrative that combines her personal journey with broader life lessons. She opens by expressing her deep gratitude for receiving an honorary degree from Harvard, acknowledging the rarity of her journey from rural Mississippi to Cambridge.

Oprah shares her initial aspirations to be a journalist and how this evolved into a successful television career. She speaks candidly about the challenges she faced, including the nervousness of competition and the drive to constantly improve, qualities she suggests are shared by the Harvard audience. Her story transitions to the launch of her own network, OWN, which faced significant struggles in its initial year, leading her to feel embarrassed and stressed. However, she emphasizes the importance of resilience and learning from failure.

In her speech, Oprah underscores the significance of finding one's purpose or 'Dharma.' She narrates how her purpose became clear through her philanthropic work, particularly with the Angel Network, which reinforced the belief that unity is more powerful than division. She highlights the impact of serving others and using one's influence for good.

Oprah stresses the importance of empathy, honesty, and authenticity in making real progress. She reflects on her experience from thousands of interviews, noting a common desire among people to be heard and understood. She encourages the graduates to engage in meaningful, face-to-face conversations and to maintain empathy.

The speech is interspersed with stories of individuals who turned adversity into strength, such as a young quadruple amputee who raised funds for Boston Marathon bombing victims. These stories exemplify the power of resilience and the human spirit.

Oprah concludes by urging the graduates to find what makes them come alive and pursue it passionately. She reassures them that despite inevitable challenges, they have the inner strength to succeed and make a difference. Her closing remarks encapsulate the essence of her message: to live a life of purpose, empathy, and resilience.

Throughout her speech, Oprah's narrative is structured and descriptive, rich in personal anecdotes and broader life insights, exemplifying her experience as a communicator and her deep understanding of human emotions and aspirations.