Oprah Winfrey's 2008 Stanford Commencement Address | Summary and Q&A

June 15, 2008
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Oprah Winfrey's 2008 Stanford Commencement Address

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In this video, Oprah Winfrey delivers a commencement speech at Stanford University, sharing personal stories and life lessons. She emphasizes the importance of following one's feelings and intuition, learning from failures, and finding happiness in service to others.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Oprah define success?

Oprah believes that true success is a combination of money and meaning. While money is nice, it is not the sole determinant of success. What truly brings richness to life is having work that is meaningful and being surrounded by people who trust, treasure, and cherish you.

Q: What is the lesson Oprah learned from her early career experiences?

Oprah learned the importance of following her feelings and being true to herself. She recalls moments when she was asked to change her name and appearance to fit a certain mold, but she realized that it didn't feel right. She eventually found her calling in hosting a talk show and realized that when you do the work you're meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus.

Q: How does Oprah suggest making decisions in life?

Oprah suggests that one should trust their gut and listen to their internal wisdom. Our feelings and intuition act as a GPS system for life, guiding us towards what feels right and helping us avoid decisions that don't align with our true selves. She advises not to react against a bad situation, but to merge with it and seek the lesson it has to offer.

Q: What lesson did Oprah learn from founding a school in South Africa?

Oprah faced a crisis when a dorm matron at her school was suspected of sexual abuse. Through that experience, she learned the importance of truly serving others and understanding that true greatness comes from being of service. She also realized the need to focus on the inside rather than the external aspects of building the school, realizing that what matters most is the sense of integrity, quality, and beauty.

Q: How does Oprah define happiness?

Oprah believes that true happiness comes from living in the present moment and living for something larger than oneself. She quotes Gwendolyn Brooks' poem, "Speech to the Young : Speech to the Progress-Toward," which encourages living in the "along," being a part of something, and giving back to others. When one lives for the present and finds happiness in serving others, life becomes more meaningful and fulfilling.

Q: What does Oprah believe makes someone great?

Oprah shares a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service." Oprah emphasizes that greatness comes from having a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. She encourages the graduating students to use their gifts and intelligence to make a difference in the world through service.

Q: How does Oprah suggest making a decision when you don't know what to do?

Oprah suggests getting still and quiet until you do know what to do. When faced with uncertainty or doubt, taking a moment to pause and reflect can help clarify the right course of action. By listening to the greater voice within and aligning oneself with internal motivation, one can make better decisions and gain a competitive edge in the working world.

Q: How did Oprah's experience in her early television career shape her perspective on success?

Oprah's early television career allowed her to realize that success isn't solely defined by external factors like fame and money. She learned that doing work that feels right and is aligned with one's true self is what brings true fulfillment and joy. Money is important but finding meaning in one's work and being surrounded by trusted and cherished relationships is what truly makes a person successful.

Q: What lesson did Oprah learn from her own experience of not graduating college?

Oprah learned the value of education and the importance of her father's insistence on her getting a degree. Despite having a successful career in television, her father always emphasized the significance of a degree and the lifelong learning that education brings. She recognized that education is not just about obtaining a degree but about constantly evolving and growing as a human being.

Q: How does Oprah view the concept of learning and education?

Oprah sees the world as a school and life as a series of lessons. She believes that our education doesn't end with graduation but is an ongoing process of self-improvement and growth. Oprah advocates for being open to the lessons that life presents, viewing the world as the grandest university of all. Learning, in its broadest sense, is a lifelong journey of evolving as a human being and moving to the next level of understanding, compassion, and personal growth.


In her commencement speech, Oprah Winfrey imparts three important life lessons: following one's feelings, learning from failure, and finding happiness through service to others. She emphasizes the power of intuition and internal guidance, encouraging graduates to trust their gut instincts. Oprah also urges the audience to embrace failure as an opportunity for growth and learning, rather than being deterred by setbacks. Lastly, she highlights the importance of finding happiness in meaningful service to others, recognizing that true greatness comes from being of service to the world. Overall, Oprah's message centers around the transformative power of following one's inner compass, learning from life's lessons, and giving back to others.

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