Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 Stanford Speech

This speech was about three lessons that Oprah Winfrey has come across in her professional and personal life. She talked about striving to be yourself and not anyone else and how you can grasp failure and turn it around by embracing it and finding the solution, and lastly how happiness comes when you give back to others. Her first lesson was about striving to be your own self; she talked about in the beginning of her professional career when she had a job in Baltimore as a news anchor. She was constantly holding Barbara Walters as the image she wanted to be in her career and wanted to be like.

So she was always trying to talk like Barbara, look like Barbara and act like Barbara… And she kept getting it wrong. She felt the need to be spontaneous and more of herself when she would read some of the headings…. Especially upsetting headings with disasters involved. So she would sometimes not pre-read any of headings until she was live so it would come across more realistic. She once covered a story of a horrible fire and afterwards ran to the scene and helped the fire victims by providing blankets. She never lost her empathy.

She ran into some barriers during this job that ultimately helped her find her true purpose in life. The first barrier was that her boss let her know that they did not like the way she looked, and that they wanted to give her a new name that they thought would be more “friendly” and would be remembered by the public. She refused to change her name but did try to improve her looks by getting a perm that eventually made her hair fall out. She was let go from her position as the news anchor and placed on a talk show instead. It was there on the talk show that she felt she was at home and knew she had found her purpose in her life.

So here she learned that she should never try to be anyone other than herself… and that when you are doing something you are supposed to do you will feel right about it. She referred to it as feeling “at home”. Her second lesson was about embracing your failures and leaning with them instead of resisting them to find the solution. She talked about some of her failures and how she gained from them instead of being devastated. She mentioned her job loss in Baltimore… at first she was upset but it turned out to be one of the best things to have ever happened to her because out of t she would up on a television show and found her place in her future HUGE professional life. She talked about how your gut can tell you a lot. When you are doing something you’re supposed to be doing your gut will let you know it. When you’re doing something you probably shouldn’t be doing, your gut will also tell you. Something just won’t feel right. That there is an inner voice inside you that you must follow and that it guides you through life. She calls is “life’s whisper”. Oprah stressed that when devastation hits you, take a step back and ask “what is this trying to teach me? She told the story of building a school in Africa for girls and took so much effort into making sure the building was perfect for the girls. Then she found out that one of the dorm matrons was suspected of sexually abusing the girls. She expressed how devastating this was to her and that she had to take a step back and ask herself what was the lesson here? She realized she was paying attention to all the wrong things. That she built that school from outside in, when what really mattered was the inside. She also expressed that she feels you never stop learning.

She was referring to the graduates of Stanford that their education journey does not end her and that looks to the earth as a huge school never ending learning experience, and that she is still learning to this day. She went over a few quotes by her father and by BB King. Her last lesson was about giving back to others. And in order to be happy you MUST give back to others. And with that comes happiness. It gives you gratitude and makes you feel good. She also said to be a part of something bigger than yourself because life is a reciprocal exchange.

She expressed that giving back is the greatest lesson of all to her. She talked about how in her career how she has given back in numerous amounts of ways and gave advice for whenever you’re in a mess, you help someone else get out of a mess… whenever you are in pain, help someone else in pain, whenever you have a loss help someone else with a loss…. She talked about how the founders of Stanford University lost their son and how they took their pain and sorrow and channeled it into grace and started the University and helped other people with children like their son.

She told the students that whatever their career may be that they use their ability to help others and pass along greatness. She ended with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. Oprah gained the audience’s attention right away because she is a widely known influential media leader. She is the Oprah Winfrey. She started by telling the audience she had a secret and that one of the students Kirby (Gail King’s daughter) was her god daughter and gave a quick story of how she knows Kirby and how proud she was of her god daughter for graduating.

This was also part of an attention getter. Oprah used good eye contact and her voice manner was very pronounced and sure of herself. She is obviously a very experienced speaker, being Oprah. She used humor throughout her speech such as saying “Stanford” with a serious tone in her voice. She kept her speech very relatable to the graduates of Stanford by talking about her professional career and all her goals she met and would occasionally talk to them specifically and give them advice about when they go out in their career how they can help, or not to give up because of failures, etc.

Oprah had good body gestures and moved her arms around when talking, gave great pauses for emphasis and looked around at the audience. She did not seem to read her speech word for word, but rather just glance down at her notes and just speak freely of her own experiences. She talked a lot about her college career in the beginning of her speech which also gained attention from the graduates. O Oprah’s vocal tone was as always, inviting and I think that really kept the audience engages and very attentive towards her and what she was saying even though her speech was pretty long (30 min).

Oprah was never repetitive and her examples were very witty and relatable. She gave each audience member two books from inspirational writers that she claimed helped her with her own life. She joked with the audience saying she wished she could have gotten everyone cars, but couldn’t pull it off. Oprah’s speech was very inspirational, impacting and I believe left a huge impression and impact on those 2008 graduates’ lives. I loved the speech and am happy I watched it and picked this one to analyze.

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