Oprah Winfrey Shares Formula For Success With TSU Graduates

By Alexis Clark

When TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey returned to her alma mater on Saturday as the spring commencement speaker, the sky in Nashville was overcast, but it didn’t stop her from filling the atmosphere with hope and inspiration. Oprah Winfrey captivated over 600 graduates at her alma mater with a wise message about success, following your heart, dreaming big, and listening to “the still, small voice.”

“I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future,” Winfrey told the graduates.

During her commencement address, Winfrey recalled living with her late father in East Nashville, attending college in the mid-1970s, and working multiple jobs. One of which was at News Channel 5 in Nashville, where she became the first Black female TV anchor at the station.

Winfrey told the story of how her media career was in full swing when she fell short of one credit needed to graduate. In 1986, she returned to submit her final paper and officially graduated from TSU shortly after earning her third Emmy award.

“Between the studying, the multiple jobs, and all that commuting back and forth, it took a little longer for me,” Winfrey said. “But I can promise you that you’re looking at a very proud graduate of the only state-funded historically Black university in Tennessee.”

As a global media leader, philanthropist, producer, actress, and author, Winfrey said she is often asked what the secret to success is. Her response: being guided by the light of God’s grace her entire life.

“It’s because I lean into his grace. Because life is always talking to us. When you tap into what it’s trying to tell you, you can begin to distill the still, small voice, which is always representing the truth of you from the noise of the world.”

Winfrey told the class of 2023 that she has stepped into many rooms as one. The only woman, the only person of color, the one no one expected to be at the table, she said.

Although she stood as one, she stood tall with generations of people who have come before her.

“I come as one, I stand as 10,000 has been my mantra for power,” she said. “God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can ever imagine for yourself. I am living testimony of aligning and living his dream.”

She noted that the graduating class of 2023 is stepping into a world that currently sees difficult times. The class will meet people who will unfortunately insist that “it’s not actually possible to make any real difference,” she said.

As the students turned their tassels from right to left, Winfrey told the crowd that making the next life decision can be frightening. But she gave students a nine-word prayer stated by the late Nelson Mandela”: “Let your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”