Have you ever considered what a monumental task it is to give a graduation commencement address?
How do you condense the wisdom of your experience over the past 10, 20, 30, 40+ years of your career into a 15 minute speech for people who are just getting started?
I honestly cannot remember WHO gave the commencement address for either of my graduations and most certainly do not remember WHAT words of wisdom they shared.
But, if there was an example of a near perfect commencement address, I think that Oprah Winfrey’s speech at Colorado College would be that example.
It’s about 15 minutes long. You can listen to it here:
Here’s what I love about it:
Start where you are: Oprah talks about getting ANY job. Not your dream job. A job. Even if you hate it or it’s not “the ONE” that you’ve been dreaming of. All steps lead you to the next thing in your life that will help you create the path made or you.
- FAILURE hurts (in the moment). She admits that even though all failures are part of the greater plan and path for your life, they still HURT. In the moment, they are frustrating, discouraging, demoralizing and downright painful. Sometimes people gloss over that part. It’s okay to remember the feelings associated with failure.
- EVERYTHING IS WORKING OUT FOR ME. But, rather than dwell in the moments of failure, Oprah talks about her personal mantra, "Everything is working out for me,". She then shares some stories of hardship. The moment in the speech where she repeats this mantra back for the second time gives me goosebumps.
- YOUR LEGACY: Of course, Oprah’s Maya Angelou impersonation is spot on. But the message behind it about LEGACY is so important. “You have NO IDEA what your legacy will be,”. Your legacy is determined by the people that you influence and the good you do in the world.
Marinate on that for a minute. I promise when you hear it, you will never not say in back in your own best Maya Angelou voice.
- And of course, you get a book! (the free book offer was over before I even heard the speech), but luckily, I already have the book, The Path Made Clear. It’s a perfect coffee table/waiting room book filled with quotations and short stories from amazing people. But, less important than the free book, is the ending which allows her to OWN (no pun intended) and celebrate what she is known for. The “you get a” Oprah memes abound the Internet. Rather than shrink from it, she embraces it and has the audience laughing and celebrating right along with her. She’s a giver, after all. And what is a graduation without a gift.
*And for those of you who heard about the gift of student loan repayment at the Morehouse graduation, you will also love Oprah’s response about why she didn’t do the same.
If you are feeling down, uninspired, hopeless or burned out, I encourage you to listen to the speech with fresh ears. Remember that every step on the path is important, failure hurts, everything is working out for you, and you have no idea what your legacy will be.
And, you can never read too many books!
My advice is simple: Never stop learning.
Congratulations to the Class of 2019
(including my very own brother who just graduated from University of Virginia’s Law School).
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