May 23, 2019

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.
  1. 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).   

Advice for graduates

You have no idea what your legacy will be.


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Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

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