“Ohhh my goodness. I’m at HARRRRRVARD!” Oprah Winfrey squealed as she stood on the Tercentenary Theatre stage to deliver the commencement speech at Harvard on Thursday. Glancing around at the Class of 2013 graduates sitting before her, Oprah shared her story of overcoming challenges that led her to Cambridge that very morning. Her eloquent words resonated with the Harvard grads, listening intently as Oprah relayed to the crowd that failure, it doesn’t exist.
When Harvard President Drew Faust asked Oprah to be Harvard’s commencement speaker, she was in the midst of experiencing one of the worst periods in her professional life. Her newly-launched network was considered a flop by media outlets and USA Today even published a headline that read: “Oprah, not quite standing on her own.” This time last year she was frustrated and embarrassed by her work, which is why when Faust approached her, she wasn’t sure what she could possibly say to graduates when she wasn’t even succeeding. But nothing stops Oprah, and equipped with a new sense of determination, she promised herself that she would turn this thing around and be better for it. Now she’s back, proudly sharing with the grads before her, “I’m here today to tell you that I have turned that network around.”
With that, Oprah’s speech took off, sharing thoughtful advice with those about to head off into the real world.
“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise, at some point you are bound to stumble,” she said. “Because if you’re constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you’re 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,” she warned, “I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us into another direction.”
“It’s okay to feel bad for a little while,” Oprah admitted. “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 teach you and force you into being more of who you are.”
Oprah also encouraged students to reassess how they create their resumes, explaining that it shouldn’t just “simply tell a story about what you want to be” it should consist of “a story about who you want to be.” It should tell a story not only 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.”
After talking on television for 25 years every single day to people, Oprah told grads that there’s a common denominator in our human experience; that we want to be validated, we want to be understood.
“Even though this is the college where Facebook was born, my hope is that you will 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.”
As someone who’s done over 35,000 interviews in her career, I think it’s safe to say she knows what she’s talking about.
“You will be happy, you will be successful, and you will make a difference in the world. Congratulations, Class of 2013!”
You can watch the full video of Oprah’s commencement speech at Harvard below: