And this is what I do know for sure because I’ve been doing it a long time: If you can just capture the humanity of the people of the stories you’re telling, you then get that much closer to your own humanity. And you can confront your bias and you can build your credibility and hone your instincts and compound your compassion. You can use your gifts, that’s what you’re really here to do, to illuminate the darkness in our world.
So this is what I also know: This moment in time, this is your time to rise. It is. Even though you can’t go anywhere, you can’t stand in line at Starbucks, you can’t go to a party, you can’t go any place where anywhere you turn people are talking about how bad things are, how terrible it is. And this is what I know: The problem is everybody is meeting hysteria with more hysteria and then we’re all becoming hysterical and it’s getting worse. What I’ve learned all these years is that we’re not supposed to match it or even get locked into resisting or pushing against it. We’re supposed to see this moment in time for what it is. We’re supposed to see through it and then transcend it. That is how you overcome hysteria. And that is how you overcome the sniping at one another, the trolling, the mean-spirited partisanship on both sides of the aisle, the divisiveness, the injustices, and the out-and-out hatred. You use it. Use this moment to encourage you, to embolden you, and to literally push you into the rising of your life. And to borrow a phrase from my beloved mentor Maya Angelou: Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, you will rise.
So your job now, let me tell you, is to take everything you’ve learned here and use what you learned to challenge the left, to challenge the right, and the center. When you see something, you say something, and you say it with the facts and the reporting to back it up. Here’s what you have to do: You make the choice everyday, every single day, to exemplify honesty because the truth, let me tell you something about the truth, the truth exonerates and it convicts. It disinfects and it galvanizes. The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption, our shield against greed and despair. The truth is our saving grace. And not only are you here, USC Annenberg, to tell it, to write it, to proclaim it, to speak it, but to be it. Be the truth. Be the truth.
So I want to get down to the real reason we’re here today. In about an hour and a half, you’re going to be catapulted into a world that appears to have gone off its rocker. And I can tell you I’ve hosted the Oprah show for 25 years, number one show. Never missed a day. Never missed a day. Twenty five years, 4,561 shows. So I know how to talk, I can tell you that, but I was a little intimidated coming here because graduations, it’s tough, it’s hard trying to come up with something to share with you that you haven’t already heard. Any information or guidance I can offer is nothing that your parents or your deans or professors or Siri haven’t already provided. So I’m here to really tell you: I don’t have any new lessons. I don’t have any new lessons. But I often think that it’s not the new lessons so much as it is really learning the old ones again and again. So here are variations on a few grand themes beginning with this: Pick a problem, any problem, the list is long. Here are just a few that are at the top of my list. There’s gun violence and there’s climate change, there’s systemic racism, economic inequality, media bias. The homeless need opportunity, the addicted need treatment, the Dreamers need protection, the prison system needs reforming, the LGBTQ community needs acceptance, the social safety net needs saving, and the misogyny needs to stop. Needs to stop. But you can’t fix everything and you can’t save every soul. But what can you do? Here and now I believe you have to declare war on one of our most dangerous enemies, and that is cynicism. Because when that little creature sinks its hooks into you, it’ll cloud your clarity, it’ll compromise your integrity, it’ll lower your standards, it’ll choke your empathy. And sooner or later, cynicism shatters your faith. When you hear yourself saying, “Ah, it doesn’t matter what one person says, oh well, so what, it doesn’t matter what I do, who cares?” When you hear yourself saying that, know that you’re on a collision course for our culture. And I understand how it’s so easy to become disillusioned, so tempting to allow apathy to set in, because anxiety is being broadcast on 157 channels, 24 hours a day, all night long. And everyone I know is feeling it. But these times, these times, are here to let us know that we need to take a stand for our right to have hope and we need to take a stand with every ounce of wit and courage we can muster. The question is: What are you willing to stand for? That question is going to follow you throughout your life. And here’s how you answer it. You put your honor where your mouth is. Put your honor where your mouth is. When you give your word, keep it. Show up. Do the work. Get your hands dirty. And then you’ll begin to draw strength from the understanding that history is still being written. You’re writing it every day. The wheels still in spin. And what you do or what you don’t do will be a part of it. You build a legacy not from one thing but from everything. I remember when I just opened my school in 2007, I came back and I had the great joy of sitting at Maya Angelou’s table. She hadn’t been able to attend the opening in South Africa. And I said to her, “Oh Maya, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, that’s going to be my greatest legacy.” I remember she was standing at the counter making biscuits, and she turned, she put the dough down, and she looked at me and she said, “You have no idea what your legacy will be.” I said, “Excuse me? I just opened this school and these girls, and it’s going to be … ” And she said, “You have no idea what your legacy will be, because your legacy is every life you touch. Every life you touch.” That changed me.