Oprah Winfrey delivers commencement address in a massive virtual graduation ceremony
The coronavirus has robbed many people of typical life milestones and celebrations. Birthdays, births, and weddings are all being held over Zoom now, but perhaps the most affected group are this year’s graduating seniors. High school kids already missed out on prom and now teens and college seniors are all being forced to move forward in life without the ultimate accomplishment: to attend a graduation ceremony and celebrate four years of their hard work. To remedy this, Facebook and Instagram hosted a massive virtual graduation ceremony for the national class of 2020 which aired live on May 15 and was hosted by The Office stars Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak. But the biggest draw was the commencement address, which was delivered by none other than Oprah Winfrey.
Gone are the boilerplate commencement speeches of years’ past, telling kids to reach for the stars and believe in themselves. We are living in unprecedented times and Oprah’s speech latched onto that feeling and did so with grace and hope.
“My hope is that you will harness your education, your creativity and your valor, your voice, your vote, reflecting on all that you’ve witnessed and hungered for, all that you know to be true and use it to create more equity, more justice and more joy in the world,” Oprah told the graduating seniors.
With the future looking like a giant question mark — the job market is unclear and college campuses might still be closed come fall — graduating seniors aren’t able to move into the world with the same certainty as their predecessors.
“I wish I could tell you I know the path forward. I don’t. There is much uncertainty,” Oprah added. “In truth, there always has been. What I do know is that the same guts and imagination that got you to this moment, all those things are the very same things that are going to sustain you through whatever is coming. It’s vital that you learn and we all learn to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown. It’s really OK to not have all the answers. The answers will come for sure if you can accept not knowing long enough to get still and stay still long enough for new thoughts to take root in your more quiet, deeper, truer self.”
But the speech wasn’t entirely about the coronavirus and how it has upended our culture. Oprah reminded students of the power they have now to emerge from this global crisis and start fresh, to carve out a new — hopefully more tolerant, more equitable — generation.
“The pandemic has illuminated the vast, systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long,” Oprah continued. “For poor communities without adequate access to healthcare, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For incarcerated people, with no ability to social distance, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For every person burdened by bias and bigotry, for every black man and woman living in their American skin, fearful to even go for a jog, inequality is a pre-existing condition.”
“Can you, the Class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again but how to create a new and more evolved normal? A world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative, whole?” Winfrey pleaded with seniors. “To be the class that commenced a new way forward, the Class of 2020.”
During the entire ceremony, the names of every high school and college across the country played onscreen accompanied by remarks from celebs and footage of actual graduating students. Although the real thing would have been best, any way to mark this momentous occasion is appreciated. You can check out the entire #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020 special on Facebook Live.