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Oprah to Spelman Grads: Remember your Ancestors

The media mogul told students their success is not just their own, and she urged them to lead lives of "significance" and service.

"Your crown has been paid for. Put it on your head and wear it," Oprah Winfrey told the cheering Spelman College Class of 2012, dedicating the day not just to the new graduates but to their ancestors' sacrifices.

The crown was "paid for not just by you and your four years, but by the blood of the lynchings, the tears and the sweat and the trials and the tears and the sorrows," said Winfrey, and "the sit-ins and the setbacks."

You come here trailing the breath of the ancestors," she intoned several times to some 550 new graduates of the historically African-American womens' college.

Winfrey told the women to know they are children of God, to seek not just success, but true, full expression of themselves and also to serve.

"Service plus significance equals success," she said. 

"In three years you won't be able to name the Housewives of Atlanta," she joked, recommending significance over fame.

"Do the right thing, even when no one is watching," said the media mogul and one of the world’s richest women, because the reward is "peace." She was awarded the Spelman Board of Trustees National Community Service Award for her nonprofit work, especially in scholarships and school endowments.

Three graduates of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa are members of the Spelman Class of 2016.

Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum noted "just a few weeks ago we celebrated the 131th annversary of our founding in 1881,"with the mission of education for the purpose of social transformation."

And the women of the Class of 2012, said Tatum, are "prepared to be a force for good in the world."

At the graduation, reproductive health educator Dázon Dixon Diallo of Atlanta was made an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for her work to study and fight the effects of HIV/AIDS, poverty, and lack of education on womens’ sexual health, especially women of color.

She’s a Spelman alumna and adjunct faculty member. 

Also receiving an honorary doctorate was actress and writer Anna Deavere Smith. She is perhaps best known as Nancy McNally on the TV show West Wing and is a professor at New York University.

The May 20 graduation coincided with the end of Spelman's annual reunion; alumnae contributions recorded during the week came to more than $700,000.  Daphne Smith, class of 1980, was elected the next president of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College.

Anna Varela May 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Do you know somebody who is graduating from college this year? If you could give the commencement speech, what would your advice be to the Class of 2012?
Glen McDaniel May 21, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Follow your dream even as you serve. These are not contradictory. In fact true success is pursuing your talent and passion to gain self fulfilment. But I believe this best done through service.

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