(I’m taking some time off this week, but prepared this (mostly) a little ahead of time.)
Oprah has been in the news recently. I seem to be the only person who missed the big event. I’m just not into royalty stuff. I had a friend who used to say that he has no time for rich, inbred people. I wouldn’t have put it so bluntly, but he had a point.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong about royalty. After all, there was a time that I wasn’t a fan of Oprah… until this event in 2008.
My wife and I were invited to watch our friend get her Ph.D. from Stanford. While I should have been more focused on her accomplishment, Oprah stole the show. I suppose that’s what commencement speakers do – they are the show.
In 2008, these observations about her speech went viral. I’m not sure that viral was “a thing” back then… and given the situation with COVID, I’m not it should be now. Either way, you get the point. This article is so old that YouTube deprecated the format to include the video. I can’t blame it too much, YouTube was still a toddler of 2 or 3 at the time.
It doesn’t make sense to reminisce with myself. You can join me on the journey by either watching the video or reading the full text. (I expect that you’ll do neither, so just continue to scroll, it’ll still make sense.)
Here’s the full text full text.
I thought it would be interesting to review how I thought of it back then and add 2021 thoughts.
16 Things I Think from Oprah’s Graduation Speech
- 2008: I think I laughed a little each time Oprah said Stanford, because she used a baritone voice to convey the exclusivity of the school.
2021: School exclusivity is still a big deal in 2021. It is always going to be timeless humor when it involves the very best (and most exclusive) schools in the nation.
- 2008: I think that I would be like Kirby Bumpus, a Stanford student, and not mention that Oprah is literally my fairy godmother.
2021: Kirby Bumpus was married at Oprah’s home around a month ago. It seems that she still makes the news.
- 2008: 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…”
2021: We didn’t find anything underneath our seats. As far I know there’s nothing under your seat right now.
- 2008: 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.”
2021: I will always advocate for more education. However, I think we can talk about the celebrity narrative of “being a credit short” to graduate and going back to school to get it. In almost every situation you hear or read about, that credit didn’t matter – they were already celebrities. If there are a lot of common, “uncelebrity” folk out there who lack a credit after a few years, there should be a process to have it made up with experience in the industry or other accommodation. It doesn’t help anyone to have people 1/100th away from a degree that is useful to them.
- 2008: 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.”
2021: This is still beautiful today, but it strikes me as some kind of mamsy-pamsy non-actionable advice? Too harsh?
- 2008: 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.
2021: Now when I read, “Do Your Job”, I can’t think of it without the fame that the New England Patriots put behind it. I even have the t-shirt and it motivates me to this day.
- 2008: I think that story led 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.”
2021: I’m much more of a pragmatic, “do the job to pay the bills” kind of person nowadays. Some years of tough blogging incomes and now having dependent kids has changed my view.
- 2008: 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.”
2021: Yes, money is important, don’t just always do what feels right.
- 2008: 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.”
2021: This is a good mix. It’s really has has pushed so many people into the FIRE movement. If you don’t need as much money, you can focus more on the meaning.
- 2008: I think having the trust of many readers and being surrounded by other great bloggers has brought meaning and real richness to my life.
2021: Still true today. (However, I wish I didn’t have to beg for a comment every couple of weeks ;). I know many of you are reading this, I can see the stats._
- 2008: 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.”
2021: When I don’t know what to do, I don’t think, “Let’s open up Oprah’s 2008 graduation speech.” I have never actually tried this, but I’d like to some time.
- 2008: 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?”
2021: During a crisis or difficult time, I think the best idea is to focus on “How do I get out of this place, situation?” Do a post-mortem later to get your life lesson.
- 2008: 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.
2021: I had forgotten about this over the years.
- 2008: 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.
2021: I should update that old article about Michael Vick and the dog fighting ring. The lessons are universal and there are more recent examples.
- 2008: 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.”
2021: This hits me much harder today than it did back then. I think as you get older, what you have given to others becomes “The Most Important Thing.”
- 2008: I think I now appreciate the amazing woman that Oprah is. If you think about it she’s had every “strike” against her… discriminated against race, gender, 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.
2021: This still rings true in 2021. I remember several years back thinking that she could run for President of the United States and get it because few people have a better reputation that would connect with all the voters. In hindsight, I was a little too optimistic about America.
I’m not sure what the dental floss line was about, but I think it was more that she had to continuously work to build her reputation and brand and that made her famous. It wasn’t a strike-it-rich moment.
I’m going to leave it there for today. It’s a lot to read and longer if you watcher or read the whole speech.
Originally published on: June 16, 2008