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Oprah to the Class of 2019: Don't wait for your 'big break'

Media producer Oprah Winfrey addresses The USC Annenberg School For Communication And Journalism Celebrates Commencement at The Shrine Auditorium on May 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey has given a lot of graduation speeches.

In 2018, the media mogul emphasized to the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Class of 2018 the importance of working hard in their first jobs. When Winfrey spoke to the Colorado College Class of 2019 on Sunday, she again gave practical advice.

"Yes, it does pay to floss. Yes, you need to look people in the eye when you speak to them. You need to keep your commitments, you need to make your bed every day because when you do, it makes your whole house look better. And you need to leave your cell phone away at the dinner table," she said.

Winfrey also gave the students a sober reminder that their dreams won't come true overnight. "I'm here to tell you that your life isn't some big break, like everybody tells you that is," she told the crowd.

"It's about taking one big life transforming step at a time," said Winfrey. "But the truth is you cannot fix everything. What you can do here and now is make a decision — because life is about decisions — and the decision that you can make is to use your life in service."

Winfrey stressed to the students that success, and service, takes time.

"The truth is, success is a process — you can ask anybody who's been successful," she said, pointing to successful restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose son was among the graduates.

Oprah Winfrey gives a commencement speech at Colorado College.

Winfrey also talked about her own professional setbacks reminded her to make thoughtful decisions. She quoted LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, saying, "Failure is what's going to humble you."

"You realize that to some extent, [success] is just beyond your control," said Winfrey. "'Success' in terms of achieving objectives, in terms of manifesting a mission, in terms of manifesting a vision, that's all good, especially if what you do can create good in the world. But to the extent that you start to define yourself through traditional measures of success, to the extent that that's your source of self-esteem — you're destined to be unhappy because you cannot control it"

For this reason, Winfrey says she does not measure her success in dollars. "I live the most beautiful life that you can imagine," she said. "It's not because I have wealth — although I love money, money's fabulous, I love it — or that I get a lot of attention, which is also good…It's because I had appreciation for the small steps, the seeds that were planted, the maps of my life that unfolded because I was paying attention.

"You have to pay attention to your life, because it's speaking to you all the time," she said. "That led me to a path made clear. So that is what I'm wishing for you today: Your own path, made clear."

This mentality, that life is made of small purposeful steps, should also serve as a reminder to look beyond the sources of anxiety that recent graduates undoubtedly face, said Winfrey.

"I know there's a lot of anxiety about what the future holds and how much money you're gonna make, but your anxiety does not contribute one iota to your progress."

Winfrey emphasized that students shouldn't let this relaxed mentality — or a sense of purpose — get in the way of practical professional steps that all college graduates should focus on.

"You do need a job. And may I say, it doesn't have to be your life's mission, or your greatest passion, but a job that pays your rent and lets you move out of your parents house — because yes, they are tired of taking care of you, and they're hoping this education will pay off," she said to laughter from the crowd. "And it will in ways that you can't imagine."

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