Since mid-May, media mogul Oprah Winfrey has been on a college graduation tour, attending the commencement ceremonies of women who went to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, a boarding school Winfrey opened in 2007 for disadvantaged girls in South Africa. On May 14, she posted on Instagram that she’d be attending a total of nine graduations this season.
On Sunday, she delivered the commencement address at Smith College, a women’s liberal arts school in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Morgan Mpungose, a former student at Winfrey’s academy, also received her diploma.
Winfrey told the Smith graduates that the secret to success to figure out how to use “your whole self, your being, your full expression, as an offering; as a full open prayer to life.”
She urged the grads to “shift the paradigm to service:”
“[A]sk the question: How can I be used? Life, use me. Show me through my talents and my gifts, show me through what I know, what I need to know, what I have yet to learn, how to be used in the greater service to life. You ask that question and I guarantee you, Smithies, the answer will be returned and rewarded to you with fulfillment, which is really the major definition of success for me.”
In offering advice, Winfrey also reflected on how she found her own answer to that question. When she was about 30 years old, Winfrey interviewed members of the Ku Klux Klan and realized, during the course of the discussion, that they were trying to use her and her show as their “recruitment platform.”
It was at that point that Winfrey decided to “no longer be used by television:”
“I would figure out a way to let television be used by me; to turn it into a platform that could be of service to the viewers. And in the moment of that decision, my life changed. I was no longer just doing a show, I was no longer just being on a show. I made the clear intention to use every show to inform, to encourage, to inspire, to uplift and to entertain at the same time.”
Afterwards, “my show took off,” Winfrey said. Her eponymous talk show ran for 25 years before ending in 2011.
“When you can create your work and your life based on an intention to serve with purpose—make it your intention to serve through your life with purpose—you will have a blessed life,” she said on Sunday.
Winfrey is worth an estimated $2.8 billion, according to Forbes, and ranked No. 3 on the magazine’s recent list of richest self-made women. She derived much of her fortune from her days as a talk show host, but her empire also includes the OWN television network, O Magazine, and Harpo Productions. Winfrey starred in HBO’s film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which aired in April, and is set to appear as a special contributor on CBS’s 60 Minutes this fall. She also owns a 10% stake in Weight Watchers.
In addition to speaking at Smith’s commencement on Sunday, Winfrey received an honorary doctorate from the college.