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Oprah Winfrey: Service and Success

Learn English with Oprah Winfrey. In this powerful commencement address to the class of 2012 Spelman college graduates, global media leader and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey, shares her wisdom on life, success, and service. Known for her influential talk show and her philanthropic efforts, Oprah emphasizes the importance of having a vision for your life, being in control of your own journey, and the enduring value of service. She encourages the graduates to shift their paradigm to service, promising that success will follow. This speech is a testament to Oprah’s belief in the power of service and the significance it brings to our lives.

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Oprah Winfrey | Quote

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“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey | FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Everything you even try to do to me, already done to you. You just have to do the right thing and the right thing will follow you, even when people don’t support it. Look at you, look at you. I have to say thank you to Doctor Tatum, to the trustees and all of the faculty, our distinguished honorary guests, all of the family in the house, thank you.

Friends of the graduates. It is my exquisite delight to stand before you, the 125th graduating class, this year, 2012. As I stand before you,

I see the reflection of myself in your eyes. I feel in the rhythm of your heartbeat my own. I feel your desire. I feel your yearning to do well and be well in the world. I congratulate and celebrate you. I’m so happy that we had a chance to spend two and a half hours together yesterday because my heart was so filled with what I do know for sure about being successful in life and what it takes that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it all in a commencement speech.

So I’ve tried to condense into just three items. Aren’t you glad it’s three and not ten?

What I feel really matters and that I want to share with you. I did a lot of thinking and praying about you all because you are me. You represent who I am, who I have been, and who I can be in the world. And so my prayer is that I will be a vessel so that the words will flow through me to you in such a way that when the times get tough, you remember and you know.

Yesterday I heard the Glee Club sing and today, that Glee Club, y’all need a show. But yesterday they sang a song and I don’t know the name of the song but the lyrics were we are here because of our grandmother’s prayers and our grandfather’s dreams and we came on the breath of our ancestors. That feels like the truth to me.

That song resonates in my spirit because I know that to be true for myself. That I stand where I stand because somebody prayed for me and dreamed for me and I come trailing the breath of the ancestors. And what I want to share with you is what two of my favorite mentor teachers, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, have said to me that I want to add to the prayers and the dreams.

Your crown has been paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.

You’re going to walk out of here with a crown today that has been paid for, not just by you and your four years, but paid for by the blood from the lynchings, the tears and the sweat, from the toil and the trials and the sorrows, from the burdens and the weariness, paid for by the sit-ins and by the setbacks, and paid for by those who in the words of Sterling Brown, strong men kept a coming on, coming on, stronger, strong men getting stronger.

Paid for in the words of Langston Hughes by those who knew that life wasn’t going to be crystal stair. It was going to have tacks in it and places on the floor bare and all the time they would keep climbing on and reaching landings and going in the dark where there was no light because even though they hadn’t experienced it or tasted freedom, they knew they were planting seeds of the free that would bear the fruit that is now you.

This is their day as well.

And so today, you get to fulfill the dream of the great-great-grandmothers who said, I may not get there, but my great-great-granddaughter may one day walk across a stage called Spelman. As a liberated woman, as a liberated, educated woman, today is your day. Never forget that you did not do this by yourself.

You come here today trailing the breath of the ancestors and the breath of the angels. As I spoke yesterday, I was so pleased to know that you Spelman women are in the spirit. And the three things that I want to leave with you, just these three, I could do ten, I could do a whole life class, but just these three things will carry you if you let them.

First and foremost, knowing who you are. Knowing who you are. Being able to answer this question, who am I and what do I want? You know, many times when I go out of the country, I am baffled by that question to explain what is your occupation. I’ve stood there for 10 minutes. Well, am I a talk show host? Well, I’m more than a talk show host.

Am I a businesswoman? I’m a businesswoman. I’m more than a businesswoman. Am I an entrepreneur? I’m more than an entrepreneur. So I just leave it blank or self-employed. So I’m not asking for the roles that you play as daughters. I’m not asking that question. What are the roles that you play as a daughter, as a friend, as a sister?

You’re going to be a lawyer. You’re going to teach. You’re going to be a pharmacist. I’m asking the bigger question of who am I? Who am I really? My answer is I am God’s child. I am that which is born of all that is. I am, as Pierre de Chardin said, a spiritual being having a human experience. Come trailing the breath of the ancestors yet, but trailing the breath of the angels.

And understanding that because I am connected to the source of all that is, all that is possible is possible for me. That’s who I am. And what do I want? I don’t want to just be successful in the world. I don’t want to just make a mark or have a legacy. The answer to that question for me is I want to fulfill the highest, truest expression of myself as a human being.

I want to fulfill the promise that the creator dreamed when he dreamed the cells that made up me. What do I want? You must have some kind of vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go. I never was the kind of woman who liked to get in a car and just go for a ride.

I had a boyfriend who would say, let’s just go for a ride. I want to know where are we going? Do we have a destination? Is there a plan or are we just riding? What I’ve learned is that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because if you’re not, life will drive you.

So… knowing who you really are in this space and time that we embody, that’s number one. What do you want? Who are you? Number two, you must find a way to serve. Martin Luther King said that not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. Now we live in a world where everybody wants to be famous and where we admire people for just being famous.

We think being known brings us value. The truth is all of that will fade in time. In three years, you won’t be able to name the housewives of Atlanta.

The real truth is that service and significance, service and the significance that you bring to your service is that which is lasting. So to be able to whatever your occupation or job or talent or gift is, our honorees today getting doctorate degrees, two apparently opposite fields, HIV and AIDS and the spoken word.

But what they have in common is service, using the spoken word in service to community and the world, using your knowledge and information about HIV and AIDS and medicine in service to the world. And if you look at all the most successful people in the world, whether they know it or not, they have that paradigm of service.

Everybody’s talking about Mark Zuckerberg and IPO. Service. Jay-Z, Rapping. Service. Through the word, to people, through song. For many years, I was really just happy to be on TV and people would stop and say, oh, you on TV? Yeah, I’m on TV. I like being on TV. It’s a nice job. And it was about the time that I received my honorary doctorate from Spelman around 1993.

I don’t know if that had something to do with it. I thought of myself as Doctor Winfrey. That I went back and I took a long look at what it was I was doing on, on TV… and made a decision that I was no longer going to just be on TV, but I was going to use TV as a platform, as a force for good and not be used by TV.

And I will tell you,

my decision to make that significant change in the way I operated on television, using television as a service, changed my career exponentially. Service through medicine. Service through art. Using whatever it is you produce, your product, as a way of giving back to the world. When you shift the paradigm of whatever it is you choose to do to service and you bring significance to that, success will, I promise you, follow you.

Service and significance equals success. That’s number two. Number three, it’s so simple but so hard to do. Always do the right thing. Always.

Be excellent. People notice. Think of how you notice. You go to Taco Bell, somebody gives you extra napkin and some sauce. You notice. You want to go back to that person because even at Taco Bell, excellence shows itself. Be excellent. Let excellence be your brand. Everybody talks about building a brand. I never even knew what that was.

When people say, you’re a brand, I would say, no, I’m just Oprah. What I recognize now is that my choice to, in every way, in every example, in every experience, to do the right thing and the excellent thing is what has created the brand. Years ago, I did an ad for Revlon for an ad they were doing called Unforgettable Women.

What I know is that when you are excellent, you become unforgettable. People remember you. You stand out regardless of what it is. You become an unforgettable woman. That is what we all want. We want to be unforgettable and not forgettable. Doing the right thing, even when nobody knows you’re doing the right thing, will always bring the right thing to you.

I promise you that. Why? Because the third law of motion is always at work. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. That is so true in all of our lives. That’s what Newton said. Celia in the color purple said it. Everything you even try to do to me, already done to you. Everything you even try to do to me, already done to you.

So you don’t have to worry about revenge or getting back at somebody, making sure they pay. You just have to do the right thing and the right thing will follow you, even when people don’t support it. I remember many times on my show, there are many shows y’all never saw. And the reason you didn’t see them is because I got the last vote.

And I remember 2010, my team, hardest working team in television had done this interview with a woman who turns out she was a Sunday school teacher by day and a sex addict at night. Ooh. And they were like, you won’t believe it. We got her going out. We got her with the men and we get to show her and she was willing to show us everything.

I sat down with a woman for an interview that was taped. And during the process of the interview, I said, why are you doing this? And she said, oh, I want to help people. I want to tell my story and I want to help people. I said, do you have children? She says, yes, I have a 10 year old son. I knew right then this is never going to see the light of day.

So we got off the air and I said to the lady, we are not going to air that show. And she said, why? My producer said, why? She knew she was being filmed. She knew what she was saying. She knows what you’re… I said, because her son will never get over it. Her son will never get over it. And it’s not worth a rating point to me.

Not worth a rating point to me to know that there’s a 10 year old boy who’s destroyed because his mother went on the Oprah Winfrey show and told all her business. You do the right thing, even when other people think it may not be. And oftentimes when you make a decision to do the right thing, immediately you’re faced with doubt.

Was that the right thing? Was that the right decision? I don’t know. Was that the right thing? You always know it’s the right thing when in the end there is peace. You are rewarded by peace in knowing that you did the right thing.

The most important thing I have come to know in doing the right thing and making the right choices is understanding what we talked about yesterday. All of you leaving here have the potential for enormous success. There’s a price that comes with that. People don’t always like you and they’re not always happy for you.

If you surround yourself with people who are not accustomed to your success, they become fearful, they become scared because you are reflecting back something to them that they don’t recognize. Now they’re not going to say, I’m very fearful because you’re reflecting back to me something I don’t recognize.

They’re going to say, you know what they’re going to say. They’re going to say, who she thinks she is? Who she thinks she is? That only happens when you are around people who do not mean and want and aspire to the best for you. People who want the best for you want you to be your best. So my greatest advice to you is to surround yourself with people who are going to fill your cup until your cup runneth over.

So when people say, you’re so full of yourself, you can say, yeah.

Yes, I’m full. I’m so full my cup runneth over. And to know that once your cup runneth over, you cannot spend your life with your gallon-sized offerings offering them to pint-sized people.

You have got to surround yourself with gallon-sized people who can hang in the same company with you so that you’re not offering your gallons to those little pints out there who can’t hold it anyway. Choice to change the world. I love that song. I love hearing you all sing that song. And what I know for sure is that the biggest choices begin and end with you.

Your internal big questions. Who do I want to be in the world? My relationship to source energy, to all that is God. I’m not talking about what you believe in God. I’m talking about your experience of that which is all life, which is divine and universal. I’m talking about the big deal, being connected and aligned with that.

When you are tuned in and charged into that, whenever you feel empty, you go inside yourself and you connect to the source and you know that all things are possible.

You know that. And to choose to do the right thing in service and significance. I promise you, you will create a vessel of service for yourself first because you have to honor yourself first. You have to give to yourself first, otherwise you have nothing to give away. You will create a vessel for yourself, for your family, your community and the world.

And those three things will not only lead you to a blessed life. I stand as a witness. My life is so blessed I can’t even take it in sometimes. It will lead you not just to a gifted life and a rewarding life that fills you up, but a sweet life. That’s what you want. You want the sweetness. You want it to be so sweet so that even when the storms come, and they will, you’ll know this too shall pass.

This too shall pass. The storm is passing over and you shall not be moved because you know who you are.

Phenomenally, phenomenal class of 2012. Thank you.

Oprah Winfrey