Today Oprah Winfrey realized a lifelong dream and received an honorary degree from the fabled Harvard University. But it was the students who got the real treat as they listened to the "little girl from rural Mississippi who made it all the way to Cambridge" give the commencement address.
Oprah shared her lifetime of wisdom, covering everything from how to be a good listener to the real secret to her success. Here are the highlights:
Learn from criticism: She started out her speech by telling everyone how she got asked to do it. It turns out the call came, one year ago, at the worst time in her professional life thanks to universal criticism of her newly launched OWN network. "What could I possibly say to Harvard graduates...at the very moment when I had stopped succeeding?" she asked before adding her signature humorous touch. "So I went to the shower. It was either that or a bag of Oreos. I chose the shower." (See? Even Oprah has struggles with emotional eating! And she's always been so open about her struggles—one of many reasons we adore her.) But in the shower, the words of a favorite hymn came to her: "Trouble don't last always." So she toweled herself off and decided she was going to turn OWN around and then tell the Harvard class of 2013 all about it. And she did both!
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There is no such thing as failure: "It doesn't matter how far you might rise, you are bound to stumble," Oprah shared with her audience of acknowledged over-achievers. "You will at some point fall and when you do, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is really life trying to move us in another direction...Learn from every mistake. They're there to force you into being more who you are."
Develop your own internal compass: Oprah advised the graduates to develop an internal "moral, emotional" GPS and use it to build a resume that "doesn't simply tell the story of what you want to be, but who you want to be—a story that is really about your purpose.” This is so important, she added, because, "when you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole, that is the story that will get you out.”
Make time for face time (and she doesn’t mean the app): Garnering more than a few chuckles, Oprah told the students, “Even though this is the college where Facebook was born, my hope is that you will try and go out and have more face-to-face conversations with people you disagree with.” Promise me, she added, "that you’ll have the courage to look them in the eye and hear their point of view.”
Even Beyoncé needs to be validated: Oprah explained that after doing more than 35,000 interviews (!!), she's learned the common denominator of human experience: "We want to be validated. We want to be understood." Relating an anecdote about the first time Beyoncé sang on her show "in all her Beyoncé-ness," she said, "Even Beyoncé whispered 'Was that okay?’—because that's what everyone wants to know: Was that okay? Did you hear me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”
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Find what makes you come alive: Paraphrasing Howard Thurman, Oprah told the graduates to ask not what the world needs but "what makes you come alive," adding, "The world needs people who have come alive!"
The real secret to success: "If you're willing to listen—to be guided by that still, small voice, to find out what makes you come alive—you will be more than okay. You will be happy, successful, and make a difference in the world."
Always be kind: Perhaps one of the kindest people our generation has ever known, Oprah gave her signature piece of advice, saying, "Do what you can with wherever you are in your life. Extend yourself in kindness to human beings wherever you can." She added that the key to this is to "banish the darkness with light; seek positivity."
Max out your humanity: In our material culture, instead of maxing out credit cards, Oprah told the students to “fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity.”