Oprah Winfrey returned to her alma mater, Tennessee State University, to give the commencement address to the Class of 2023. The historically Black university awarded degrees to over 1,300 graduates during the ceremony.
During her speech, Winfrey recounted the story of how she launched her media career while still attending college. She revealed that she was living with her father in East Nashville, helping out in his store, and presenting the weekend news at a Black radio station when the lead anchor of the local CBS television affiliate heard her voice. He called her at school to offer her a job.
Initially, Winfrey turned down the job offer, stating that her father said she had to finish school because education was important. However, her scene design professor convinced her to take the job, and she arranged her classes to work at the television station in the afternoons and evenings.
By the time she reached her senior year, Winfrey’s career was in full swing. But she was one credit short and wouldn’t be able to graduate. Her father continuously asked her, “When are you going to get that degree?” for years until she finally got her degree in 1988 by submitting a paper and some of her shows for the final credit.
Winfrey’s inspiring speech urged the graduates to listen to their hearts and filter out the noise of the world. “Every right move I’ve made has come from listening deeply and following that still, small voice,” she said. “That way, you begin to know your own heart and figure out what matters most.”
She reminded the graduates that the United States is not a finished product, and anything is possible. “The wheels are still in spin. Saints walk among us. And as Nelson Mandela so brilliantly demonstrated, it’s better to be hopeful than fearful, if for no other reason than that hope brings us one step closer to joy.”
In closing, Winfrey congratulated the Class of 2023 and urged them to “go forth and soar!”