Oprah Winfrey dishes out life advice in her USC commencement speech
iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — In her address to the graduating students of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Friday morning, Oprah Winfrey delivered a speech that rivaled the one she made at the Golden Globes back in January.
Winfrey, whose “daughter-girl” Thando Dlomo was among the graduates, stressed the importance of being honest, especially in today’s culture of “fake news,” and implored the future journalists in the room to “challenge the left, to challenge the right, and the center.”
She also explained how enriching it is to tell the stories of others.
“If you could just capture the humanity of the people and the stories that you’re telling, you can get that much closer to your own humanity and you can confront your bias and you can build your credibility and hone your instincts and compound your compassion,” she said. “You can use your gifts — that’s what you’re here to do — to illuminate the darkness in our world.”
However, much of the advice she dispensed was more general and could be applied to anybody, regardless of their chosen career path:
1. Be the truth: Winfrey asked her audience to “make the choice every single day to exemplify honesty.” “The truth exonerates and it convicts. It disinfects and it galvanizes. The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption, our shield against greed and despair. The truth is our saving grace,” she said. “Be the truth. Be. The. Truth.”
2. Stay hopeful: The talk show host acknowledged that there are a litany of issues that need to be addressed today, and listed a few of the problems at the top of her list: “There’s gun violence and climate change and systemic racism. Economic inequality, media bias. The homeless need opportunity, the addicted need treatment, the Dreamers need protection, the prison system needs reforming, the LGBTQ community needs acceptance, the social safety net needs saving and the misogyny needs to stop.” Of course, she added, nobody can fix everything. However, “you have to declare war on one of our most dangerous enemies and that’s cynicism,” she said. “It’ll lower your standards, it’ll choke your empathy and sooner than later, cynicism shatters your faith. When you hear yourself saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what one person says, oh well. So what? It’s not gonna make any difference what I do, who cares?’ When you hear yourself saying that, know that you’re on a collision course for our culture.
“These times are here to let us know that we need to take a stand for our right to have hope,” she added. “The question is: What are you willing to stand for?”
3. Be good to everyone: After Winfrey founded a school for girls in Africa, she told her mentor Maya Angelou that she was sure that that would be her legacy. Angelou wasn’t so sure. “She said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch.’ Every life you touch. That changed me,” she said. “Pick a problem, any problem, and do something about it. Because to somebody who’s hurting, something is everything.”
4. Vote: With a wink and a nod to the rumors that she might be considering a run for the presidency (she’s not!), Winfrey encouraged her audience to always make it to the polls. “Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf,” she said. “They represent you and if they’ve not done right by you, if their policies are at odds with your core beliefs, then you have a responsibility to send them packing.
“People died for that right,” she continued. “I think about it every time I cast a vote, so don’t let their sacrifice be in vain.”
5. Live responsibly: “Eat a good breakfast. It really pays off. Pay your bills on time. Recycle. Make your bed. Aim high. Say thank you to people and actually really mean it. Ask for help when you need it and put your phone away at the dinner table. Just sit on it!” she said. “Know what you tweet and post and Instagram today might be asked about in a job interview tomorrow or 20 years from tomorrow.”
6. Be kind: Winfrey stressed the importance of compassion. “Be nice to little kids, be nice to your elders, be nice to animals and know that it’s better to be interested than interesting,” she said. “And if you’re fighting with someone you really love, for God’s sake, find your way back to them because life is short even on our longest days.”
7. Splurge on the right things: Winfrey may be one of the wealthiest people in America, but the two things she suggested are worth the splurge are a quality mattress (“I’m telling you, your back will thank you later,” she said) and well-made shoes.
8. Be upstanding: “Don’t ever confuse what is legal with what is moral because they are entirely different animals. You see, in a court of law there are loopholes and technicalities and bargains to be struck, but in life, you’re either principled or you’re not,” she said. “So do the right thing, especially when nobody’s looking.
“And while I’m at it, do not confuse money and fame with accomplishment and character,” she continued. “Because I can assure you based on the thousands of people I’ve interviewed, one does not automatically follow the other.”
9. Your job is what you do, not who you are: And, she added, work will not always be fulfilling. “There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway,” she said. “Remember that your job is not who you are, it’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become.
“Every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your ideas — that is going to happen — look for the lessons because the lessons are always there,” she added. “And the No. 1 lesson I can offer you where your work is concerned is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.”
10. Be yourself: Winfrey promised that one of her last pieces of advice “will save you”: “Stop comparing yourself to other people,” she said, to applause.
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