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'Use Your Life in Service,' Oprah Winfrey Tells Graduates

Global media leader, philanthropist, producer, and actress Oprah Winfrey urged Colorado College graduates to use their life in service, telling those attending CC’s 145th Commencement ceremony, “I’m here to tell you that you actually do get to transform the world every day by your actions. Small steps lead to big accomplishments,” she said.

“The most important thing is how you’re touching other people’s lives,” she told the 537 undergraduates and 34 Master of Arts in Teaching students participating in the Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, held outdoors on the newly named Tava Quad with Pikes Peak in the distance.

“The truth is, you cannot fix everything. But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. 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 – which leads to bigger moments.

“You have no idea what your legacy will be,” said Winfrey.

Her legacy to the Colorado College Class of 2019 was not only being their Commencement speaker; Winfrey also personally handed each graduate a copy of her most recent New York Times bestseller, “The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose,” which features short essays on her life principles, peppered with quotes from luminaries.

Winfrey was introduced by Palesa Mokoena ’19, the second student from Winfrey’s Leadership Academy to graduate from Colorado College. Winfrey also attended the 2017 CC Commencement ceremony, when another one of her “daughter girls,” as she calls her students, graduated.

“Ms. Winfrey, whom I have affectionately called Mom O, from the time when I was 14 years old until today, is a remarkable woman,” said Mokoena, who is headed to a job in New York City following graduation. “She has been an incredible mentor to me, and her promise to Nelson Mandela to build a school in South Africa changed the trajectory of my life. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls is the greatest gift to my country and to me. For that, I am eternally grateful,” she said.

Winfrey was presented by Associate Professor of Feminist and Gender Studies Heidi Lewis for the honorary degree. In her remarks, Lewis noted that every day, from the time she was age 5 until 30, her mother taped “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“I couldn’t appreciate until later how meaningful it was for me to witness a strong, intelligent, beautiful Black woman command a stage and nationwide audience for 25 years, proving the impossible possible,” said Lewis.

“While I never dreamed I would have the chance to tell her this in person, I’m thankful for the opportunity to stand here today to tell her and all of you that Oprah Winfrey taught us and so many little ones like us a great deal about how to dream. She taught us we could be smart, powerful, strong. She taught us which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn. But most importantly, she taught us that we could be even when few others could see what we saw in front of us,” said Lewis.

In addition to awarding Winfrey an honorary degree, President Tiefenthaler also bestowed honorary degrees on Jairo Valverde Bermudez ’92, the Costa Rican ambassador to Brazil; 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.

Watch the full ceremony below:

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Video: Congratulations, Colorado College Class of 2019

Video of the Commencement ceremony

Photos from Commencement 2019

More Commencement information