Oprah Winfrey Speaks Of Service, Small Steps And Appreciation At Colorado College Commencement

May 19, 2019

Downtown Colorado Springs was bursting with excitement Sunday as global media leader, philanthropist, producer, and actress Oprah Winfrey addressed Colorado College’s graduating class.

Winfrey emphatically told the 571 graduates that life is about decisions, emphasizing the choice to be of service to those around you.

“You will speak up, you will show up and you will stand up, you will sit-in, you will volunteer, you will vote, you will shout out, you will help,” she said, after telling the crowd to pick a problem they would like to address and tackle it. “You will lend a hand, you will offer your talent and your kindness however you can and you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in.”

Oprah Winfrey speaks to graduates at the 2019 commencement ceremony of The Colorado College.
Credit Abigail Beckman / 91.5 KRCC

That transformation, Winfrey said, happens every day, as small steps lead to big accomplishments.

“I’m here to tell you that your life isn’t some big break like everybody thinks it is. They’re waiting on the big break. It’s actually about taking one significant life-transforming step at a time.”

Winfrey reflected on her career and accomplishments. She outlined her own successes and failures, emphasizing the reality that everyone fails at something.

“In the moment when you fail, it really feels bad, and it’s embarrassing, and it’s bad,” she laughed. “And it’s going to happen to you if you keep living. But I guarantee you, it also will pass and you will be fine.”

She shared her own life motto with the graduates, which they repeated in unison.

“Everything is always working out for me.”

Additional words of wisdom from Winfrey included floss your teeth, look people in the eye, make your bed, and don’t bring your cell phone to the dinner table.

When they received their diplomas, each student was given a copy of her book The Path Made Clear.

To the delight of those in attendance and in true Oprah-fashion, at the end of her speech Winfrey said, “You get a book, you get a book and you get a book!”

Oprah Winfrey celebrates before receiving her honorary degree from Colorado College at the 2019 commencement. Winfrey was given a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
Credit Abigail Beckman / 91.5 KRCC

Winfrey was given an honorary degree from the college, along with three others — Jairo Valverde Bermudez ’92, who was appointed the Costa Rican ambassador to Brazil in 2015; Martile Rowland, an accomplished opera singer who has served as artist in residence for the CC Music Department for more than 20 years; and France Winddance Twine, an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and professor of sociology and documentary filmmaker at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Winfrey had originally planned to attend the ceremony - not speak at it - in support of Lee-Ann Palesa Mokoena, a 2019 CC graduate who attended The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. College President Jill Tiefenthaler reportedly asked her to speak.

A video of commencement, including Winfrey's speech will be availabe here for a limited time.

Prior to Winfrey's speech, the Cozad Singers of the Kiowa Tribe, renowned for performing honor songs at powwows nationwide, performed an appreciation and honor song. Commencement was held on Tava Quad, a space previously-known — informally — as Armstrong Quad. 

Native American students stand as the Cozad Singers perform a song of honor and appreciation.
Credit Abigail Beckman / 91.5 KRCC

In February the Colorado College Board of Trustees approved naming Tava Quad in response to a request from the indigenous and native peoples of CC. “Tava” means “Sun Mountain,” and is the name used by the Tabegauche Band of the Ute People for Pikes Peak. 

Hear the Cozad Singers performance below:

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