Oprah’s #Graduation2020 Speech Is Here To Get You Through Your Pandemic Despair

by Jessica Wang
Oprah's #Graduation2020 Speech Asks "What's Your Essential Service?"
Steve Jennings/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The class of 2020 might not get to have graduation ceremonies, but they do have arguably the best commencement speaker of all time. Oprah Winfrey delivered an uplifting speech for Facebook's #Graduation2020 and urged graduates to contemplate one question: What’s your essential service? Winfrey delivered the virtual commencement address for #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020 on May 15, which streamed on Facebook Watch and Instagram. Winfrey, the architect of the ceremony, was joined by Mindy Kaling, Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X, Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, and more major stars to celebrate the class of 2020. In her speech, Winfrey cited the vast systemic inequities illuminated during the pandemic and, as such, emboldened graduates to work towards a better tomorrow.

“Even though there may not be pomp because of our circumstances, never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion, energy, and hope,” Winfrey said. Despite the uncertainties ahead, she urged graduates to “step into the unknown” and posed the following question: “Can you, the class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again, but how to create a new and more evolved normal — a world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, whole?”

Proclaiming that “inequality is a preexisting condition,” Winfrey then highlighted the systemic inequalities contributing to the devastating toll of COVID-19 within poor communities, those without access to healthcare, immigrant families, incarcerated individuals unable to social distance, and black people being gunned down for simply “living in their American skins.” She continued, “You have the power to stand for, to fight for, to vote for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. This moment is your invitation to use your education to begin to heal our afflictions.”

Winfrey then cited the essential workers who are healing our society: teachers, healthcare workers, grocery store and food workers, truck drivers and food providers, and sanitation workers. “What will your essential service be?” Winfrey asked. “What really matters to you? The fact that you’re alive means you’ve been given a reprieve to think deeply about that question.”

She later concluded, “My hope is you will harness your education, your creativity, your valor, your voice, your vote — reflecting on all that you’ve witnessed and hungered for, all that you know to be true — and use it to create more equity, more justice, and more joy in the world.” Well, she's certainly set a high bar for all of us.

Winfrey's #Graduation2020 is just one of a handful of virtual ceremonies to celebrate grads amid COVID-19. Barack and Michelle Obama’s “Dear Class of 2020,LeBron James’ “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” and Stacey Abrams, Tracee Ellis Ross, and more’sTeen Vogue Commencement” are some of the ceremonies still to come.

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