Oprah to Smith grads: Service is secret to success

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, left, presents graduate Halimat Ipesa-Balogun with a diploma May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Senior class president Badriyyah Salem Alsabah delivers the senior class address May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress Oprah Winfrey delivers the commencement address May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates await the final conferring of degrees May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress Oprah Winfrey, left, is presented with her honorary degree by Smith College President Kathleen McCartney May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Senior class president Badriyyah Salem Alsabah delivers the senior class address May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • John B. Brady, Mary Elizabeth Moses Professor of Geosciences, steps up to receive the Honored Professor Award May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Cecelia Lim, left, and Monica Wilson hug May 21, 2017 following the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, left, presents graduate Gerraldine Tahere with a diploma May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents scientist Erin O'Shea with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents former Northampton mayor and community leader Clare Higgins with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents education leader and advocate Henrietta Mann with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Olympic medalist figure skater and diplomatic envoy Michelle Kwan is presented with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates applaud May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Elsie Eastman, center, and Isabelle Eyman applaud May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Flora Weil sheds tears May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Collin Jean Benedict listens to speakers May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Elsie Eastman, center, sheds tears alongside Isabelle Eyman May 21, 2017 at the end of the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Ashley Ikromova, left, and Falak Koreshi process out May 21, 2017 following the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Jamie Keene applauds May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Elsie Odhiambo, left, hugs friend Tapiwa Nkhisang of Boston, a 2016 Smith graduate, during the 139th commencement ceremony May 21, 2017 at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A Smith College graduate holds congratulatory flowers May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Morgan Mpungose, one of the first students of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, processes out May 21, 2017 following the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Ashley Ikromova, left, and Falak Koreshi take a selfie May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates watch bagpipers process May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Friends and family of Smith College graduates cheer and photograph as their loved ones process May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates including Jamie Keene, center, process May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Pande Putu Sri Wahyuni, left, and Molly Ackerman hug May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress Oprah Winfrey is presented with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress Oprah Winfrey shows off her honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

@JackSuntrup
Published: 5/21/2017 10:42:30 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Oprah Winfrey walked her cocker spaniel Sadie downtown Sunday morning, early enough to see the sunrise “extend and expand its warming glow over an already beautiful Northampton.”

Winfrey used the allegory to describe how her “daughter-girl” Morgan Mpungose — a graduate of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa and 2017 Smith graduate — “blossomed” during her time at the women’s college.

“You have shaped her into a thoughtful contributor,” Winfrey said during her commencement address at the school’s 139th commencement. “She came here, I know, thinking about herself and her own career and what she could do for herself. And she leaves convicted, as do all of you, to do something for the world.”

That was the overarching theme of Winfrey’s 25-minute speech to the 2017 class on Smith College’s Quadrangle: finding fulfillment by serving others.

The power of service, Winfrey said, is “the secret to my success.”

One example of that service, she said, was opening the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa in 2007.

“I believe that when you educate a girl you not just educate her, you educate her to create opportunities for her family, her community, and eventually the world.”

Winfrey, 63, said she started in television when she was 19 years old as a news anchor in Nashville. When she was about 30 and in Chicago, she said, she realized she was no longer satisfied with just being on TV.

Winfrey was interviewing members of the Ku Klux Klan and realized they were using her show as a recruitment tool.

“I made a decision that I would no longer be used by television — that I would figure out a way to let television be used by me, to turn it into a platform that could be of service to the viewers.

“This understanding that there is an alignment between who you are and what you do is what authentic empowerment is,” Winfrey said.

She said true fulfillment comes from serving others and understanding them.

“You shift the paradigm to service and the reward comes,” Winfrey said.

She said what she loves about Smith is that “you learn to see the other.”

“Don’t think I didn’t see all the Black Lives Matter signs on all the houses,” Winfrey said to applause. “You all understood that social justice for all really matters. I appreciate that.”

She said Maya Angelou taught her that we are more alike than we are different. She said she tried to understand and listen to the people she interviewed.

“After every interview, no matter who I was talking to, the person would say when I finished the interview, ‘is that OK?’” Winfrey said. “Every person, every argument you’ve ever been in, every confrontation or conversation, every person just wants to know they were heard.”

Another point, Winfrey told the graduates, is that you must take care of yourself.

“You have to give yourself top priority to fill up your life with a full, emboldened, spiritual life that gives back to you,” Winfrey said, adding the graduates should find a captivating activity like meditation, music, painting, dancing — even walking the dog. “You make yourself full so your cup runneth over.”

Winfrey ended her speech with a story from her show where a man named John Diaz came on to talk about surviving a plane crash in 2000. Diaz survived, but saw “all the other passengers sitting in their seats, their bodies on fire.

“He saw coming out of the tops of their heads, with the flames, what he thought were auras,” Winfrey said. “And he said that some were burning brighter than others.

He said: “I’m not a religious man. I didn’t think of it in terms of divinity. I just knew that when I got off that plane I was going to try to live my life with more empathy. That I was going to be open to more love, because I knew inside myself that the people whose auras were burning the brightest were people who had lived the brightest lives.”

“That’s my closing prayer for you, Smithies,” Winfrey said, “that you leave here and live the brightest life.”

The crowd of graduates, their families and friends also heard from Badriyyah Alsabah, the senior class president.

“Change has been a constant theme in our four years here,” she said. “And you all epitomize what it means to be an agent of change, both accepting and creating it.”

Alsabah mentioned the students pushing for the school to change its admission policy to accept trans women, the implementation of more sustainable food service, the amending of its admissions policy to treat undocumented students as domestic applicants and pushing diversity and inclusion on campus in general.

“Today we take a part of Smith with us as we embark on our individual odysseys,” she said. “I say odysseys because I predict that our lives will be more than just journeys, rather intellectual and spiritual voyages marked by many, many adventures.”

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.




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