Oprah Winfrey Commencement Speech


Media Writing Class: March 2015

MIDDLETOWN, CT—Oprah Winfrey told graduating students to trust that God has a plan for them in her commencement speech at Wesleyan University on Sunday.

Winfrey recalled the time she realized that, “God could dream a bigger dream for me than my imagination could hold.”

Winfrey gave the speech from the steps of Olin Memorial Library surrounded by bright flowers on a windy day. The audience was full of graduates in black and red caps and gowns, Winfrey’s niece being one of them.

The University’s President, Douglas Bennet, introduced Winfrey. The audience greeted her with applause as she stepped up to the podium. When Winfrey began speaking, a woman stood in front of the audience and translated her words into American Sign Language.

Winfrey asked aloud “How did I get from there to here?” and spoke about that journey with the graduating class and other attendees of the ceremony.

She recalled a time when she thought her career would be over because her hair burned off while getting a perm and had to make an appearance on the news while bald. This discouraged her, but then she told herself “you are not your hair.”

Winfrey also quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “Greatness is determined by service.” She built off of this, saying that greatness is achieved by “opening yourself up to the greater possibility that the creator has intended.”

Winfrey believes that the students will achieve great things in their lives if they believe that great things will happen. She discussed the possibility of fame and how some may not want to be famous given the lack of privacy fame causes.

The hard work that it took for the students to sit where they were sitting did not go unnoticed by Winfrey. She commended them for the sacrifices they have made in order to get all they can out of the education they were lucky enough to receive.

Shawn Jones is a graduate from Keene, New Hampshire who majored in film studies here at Wesleyan University. Jones’s mother is a preschool teacher and his father is a financial consultant and both are supportive of his interest in film studies.

“Her message was really really important for us to hear,” said Shawn. “I really found that [her speech] spoke to me…at this time especially.”

Shawn is off to Los Angeles next week to begin his career in film. He has an entry level position at DreamWorks Pictures. He already had experience with filmmaking from when he participated in a documentary film workshop abroad.

Miranda Jones-Smyth is a mother of one of the graduates from today’s ceremony. Her daughter is Emily Jones-Smyth, an English literature major. They are from Monterey, California. Jones-Smyth also attended Wesleyan University. “I had such a positive experience here,” said Jones-Smyth.

Miranda is a fan of Winfrey’s, especially when it comes to her book club. “Oprah is such an impressive woman,” said Miranda. “Her stories about her professional life really resonated with me.” Miranda is a graphic artist for Edelman and Emily is her first child to go to college.

Emily plans on working with the Peace Corps. She will help students from the ages of eight to nine learn the English language. She leaves in June.

Wesleyan University is a liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut looking over the Connecticut River. The university was founded in 1831. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the campus on more than one occasion.

Winfrey is a film actress, talk show host, television producer, and philanthropist.

While famous for many of these great accomplishments, Winfrey is also famous for her book club and how her book club has influenced book sales.