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Oprah’s Stanford Commencement Speech

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Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to celebrate a friend get her doctorate degree from Stanford University. It was the result of many years of hard work. Though it was her day in the sun, I found myself looking more towards Oprah's commencement speech. After all, there was little question how the day would go for my friend - she'd walk across the stage, get hooded, and then pose for an ungodly amount of pictures. With Oprah, on the other hand, I didn't know what to expect.

I don't have a lot of experience with Oprah. You'll notice this site isn't Lazy Woman and Money. I'm sure Oprah's audience does include many men, but her show is geared towards a women audience. My impression of the show has always been some woman sobbing about a tragedy and Oprah, saying, "There, there" while trying to find a way to make the situation at least a little better. Then there's a book review of something like The Secret, which is more about changing your life from thinking positively from the reviews I've read. (As Lazy as I am, I tend to believe in acting positively is necessary as well.) As you might be able to tell, I might not be basing this knowledge on any actual facts.

I was blown away by her speech. After about 10 minutes, I realized I could probably focus a week's worth of posts on it. I'm not going to drag you through that. Instead here's a fairly dense review of what I found interesting. At the end, you'll find text and video links to the entire commencement, so you can live the whole experience.

16 Thoughts on Oprah's Stanford Commencement Speech

  1. I think I laughed a little each time Oprah said Stanford, because she used a baritone voice to convey the exclusivity of the school.
  2. I think that I would be like Kirby Bumpus, a Stanford student, and not mention that Oprah is literally my fairy godmother.
  3. I think that no one needed a Wusthof knife to cut the tension when Oprah closed the ceremony with, "You know, I've always believed that everything is better when you share it, so before I go, I wanted to share a graduation gift with you. Underneath your seats you'll find..."
  4. I think that Oprah's story of not being one credit shy from graduating college for 12 years was great. She tied it into a great message when she went back to get the degree despite having more than enough success without it, quoting B.B. King, "The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take that away from you."
  5. I think that while I often write about money, this is a beautiful excerpt, "I believe that there's a lesson in almost everything that you do and every experience, and getting the lesson is how you move forward... I know that inner wisdom is more precious than wealth. The more you spend it, the more you gain."
  6. I think I learned that you should do what feels right. Oprah went into a story about her first job where everyone tried to make her into something that she wasn't. Even her father encouraged her to play along, "Just do your job", he'd say. This spoke to me recently with a contract job that I took. It's a great story for another day.
  7. I think that story lead into the one thing that's been driven home time and time again from this website, "When you're doing the work you're meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus, regardless of what you're getting paid... If it doesn't feel right, don't do it."
  8. I think this would be a horrible article if I didn't mention this nugget from the speech... "Let me tell you, money's pretty nice. I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that it's not about money, 'cause money is very nice. I like money. It's good for buying things. "
  9. I think it would be an even worse article if I didn't provide the full context, "What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you. That's when you're really rich."
  10. I think having the trust of many readers and being surrounded by other great bloggers has brought meaning and real richness to my life.
  11. I think this is a great piece of advice, "There are many times when you don't know what to do. When you don't know what to do, get still, get very still, until you do know what to do."
  12. I think Oprah gave this piece of common advice, "Ask every failure "” this is what I do with every failure, every crisis, every difficult time "” I say, what is this here to teach me?"
  13. I think she tied that piece into her own experiences well, using the story of the sexual abuse at her school in Africa. She realized that her failure was in focusing on all the physical details of the school, and missing the overall picture that the people are what matter.
  14. I think that Oprah reiterated what Bobby Petrino said about dealing with adversity. In case you missed it, here's a recap. Greive properly, attend to the situation at hand, and get back to what was important before the crisis. It's too bad that Bobby Petrino turned out to be a twerp that left the Atlanta Falcons in their time of need.
  15. I think Oprah's third lesson is one that many of my personal finance blogging colleagues will nod and agree with... "Don't live for yourself alone. This is what I know for sure: In order to be truly happy, you must live along with and you have to stand for something larger than yourself. Because life is a reciprocal exchange. To move forward you have to give back. And to me, that is the greatest lesson of life. To be happy, you have to give something back."
  16. I think I now appreciate the amazing woman that Oprah is. If you think about it she's had every "strike" against her... a discriminated against race, sex, even weight. On top of it all she had a funny name... It's even more amazing when I realize that she became a public figure with all those "strikes" against her. It's not like she got rich by inventing dental floss.

For those interested, the full text of Oprah's speech is available on Stanford's website

If you have a half hour and want to get the full effect of the speech, hit play on the YouTube video below...

Last updated on June 19, 2008.

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12 Responses to “Oprah’s Stanford Commencement Speech”

  1. Krod says:

    Sorry…. but what the hell are you talking about? Im so very confused.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    I wrote about so many things here, I’m not sure to which part you are confused about.

  3. Mrs. Micah says:

    What was under your seats? Diplomas? Cars? ;)

    Thanks for sharing the highlights. I’m not really an Oprah person, but I’ve seen a couple of her better shows and really liked them.

  4. guinness416 says:

    I enjoyed your thoughts, Lazy Man.

    I don’t know a whole lot about Oprah either (we’re not big TV watchers in my household) but I like her pushing of good books, and she seems like an interesting person. To your point number 16, you can add growing up in a single-parent household, being raped as a child and teenage pregnancy.

    Great post!

  5. jim says:

    Mrs. Micah: Bars of gold!

  6. Stanford1 says:

    For more, check out Stanford’s YouTube site:


  7. macguyver says:

    echo Stanford1, check out the Steve Jobs speech from a few years back. nice complement to Oprah’s talk.

  8. Chad @ Sentient Money says:

    I’m not a huge fan of Oprah, as most of it’s just fluff, but I do like #6. We make this mistake way too often.

  9. What was under everyone’s seats?? I am dying to know but too lazy to research it myself.

  10. Mrs. Micah says:

    Just books? But I know where you can get thousands of those for free.

    It’s kind of hilarious how the New Earth book as been going out so much since she started talking about it. We had to buy more copies. You can always tell when something becomes an Oprah book…major circulation bump.

    Maybe I should get her to recommend my blog….

  11. This was a great speech. One of my coworkers went to see the graduation and he was shocked that I could discuss the graduation speech with him. He probably thinks I am some raving Oprah nut now. :)

    Additionally, I wanted to let you know that you helped my wife out on an assignment for her masters program by posting this. She needed an example of failed leadership for a class. I immediately pointed her to this speech. Oprah humbly and honestly gave a great example of failed leadership including what went wrong and how to recover from it.

  12. lattimore says:

    not a fan of of oprah. she has done some good things with her money, but she also has endorsed alot of crazy things. she supports psychics,homeopathy, and my personal favorite “the secret” to name a few. all enormous wastes of money and time.

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