'You will lead us': Oprah Winfrey calls on class of 2020 graduates to create a new normal

Oprah Winfrey on June 24, 2019, in Vancouver, Canada.
Andrew Chin | Getty Images

Graduating students around the country will be missing out on walking down an aisle to pick up their diplomas due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In order to make up for the loss, Facebook hosted a virtual graduation on Friday and enlisted a host of celebrities to offer words of encouragement.

One of those celebrities was Oprah Winfrey, the main speaker, who is no stranger to commencement speeches. In a video message, Winfrey told graduates "you will lead us."

She acknowledged there is uncertainty right now, but students' "values, fortitude and determination" and "guts and imagination" that led them to graduate will also help them get through whatever is coming.

"It is vital that you learn to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown," said Winfrey.

Students were also asked to take advantage of the "disorder" caused by the pandemic to "reorder our way of being." Instead of putting the pieces back together, Winfrey suggested creating a world that is more "just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative, whole."

She spoke about the inequalities in society that have been exposed by the pandemic as a reason to recreate the world. "Inequality is a preexisting condition," said Winfrey, for communities like immigrants and the incarcerated population.

"This moment is your invitation to use your education to begin to heal our inflictions by applying the best of what you have learned in your head," said Winfrey, "and felt in your heart."

Winfrey compared humanity to a human body, where every "soul is a cell," and the "deepest self-care is at once caring for the human family." For Winfrey, essential workers are a testament to this because "we are all here" because of their services.

"What will your essential service be?" asked Winfrey to graduates. First, students must discover what matters to them. And by harnessing their education and creativity, she hopes students "use it to create more equity, more justice, and more joy in the world."

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