It's the season of caps, gowns, and hopefully-not-too-dull commencement speeches. If new grads are lucky, the headliner will have worthwhile and memorable advice to share.
This year, the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism won the commencement speech lottery: Oprah Winfrey. USC brought together about 900 candidates for bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in communication, journalism, public diplomacy, and public relations to hear Oprah's 23-minute commencement speech.
Oprah catered to her audience. For much of her inspirational and politically charged speech, she rallied the communications graduates to fight for the truth, exemplify honesty, and to remember their principles. Oprah encouraged her audience to pick a problem, any problem, and do something about it. "To somebody who is hurting, something is everything," she said. "Use your gifts to illuminate the darkness in the world."
Then she got to the nitty-gritty and practical. "I don't have any new lessons," Oprah said. "I often think that it's not the new lessons, so much as it is really the learning the old ones again and again."
Your job won't always be fulfilling. Show up anyway
Oprah told the audience she filmed 4,561 episodes over The Oprah Winfrey Show's 25-year run. She said she never missed a single day of filming. And still, even Oprah didn't always like going to work.
"Your job is not always going to fulfill you," she said. "There will be some days when you just might be bored. Other days you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway."
She reminded the audience that your job is not who you are. "It's just what you are doing on the way to who you will become," she said. To build a fulfilling career, you need to put in the work even on the unfulfilling days while grinding through what may be unfulfilling jobs.
You need to keep showing up. Keep putting in the effort. Even when you don't feel like it. Even when you have to do remedial tasks. Even when your boss takes credit for your ideas -- which definitely will happen, Oprah warned the audience. In those challenging work situations, she said, there are lessons to be gleaned. She encouraged the graduates to use every uninspiring or difficult workday as a learning opportunity.
Earlier in her speech, she heralded the importance of being the person who can always be counted on. "Give your word. Keep it. Show up. Do the work. Get your hands dirty," she said. "You build a legacy not from one thing but from everything."
It takes diligent, consistent effort to grow your skills. And that's how truly fulfilling careers are built. "The number one lesson I could offer you where your work is concerned is become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed," Oprah said.
Nuggets of practical wisdom
Oprah also squeezed in a few pieces of practical advice about life in general.
- Eat a good breakfast. It really pays off.
- Pay your bills on time.
- Make your bed.
- Aim high.
- Say thank you to people and actually mean it.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Put your phone away at the dinner table.
- Know what you tweet and post and Instagram today might be asked about in a job interview tomorrow -- or 20 years from tomorrow.
- Be nice to little kids.
- Be nice to your elders.
- Be nice to animals.
- Know that it's better to be interested than interesting.
- Invest in a quality mattress. I'm telling you, your back will thank you later.
- Don't cheap out on your shoes.
- 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.
- Don't ever confuse what is legal with what is moral, because they are entirely different animals. In life, you are principled or you're not. So do the right thing -- especially when nobody's looking.
- Do not equate money and fame with accomplishment and character.
Oprah closed her speech by reminding every member of the audience to stop comparing themselves with others. "Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being," she said. "That's why you're here. You will do that through your work and your art, your relationships, and your love."