By Kelli Sharpe
NASHVILLE, TN — Tennessee State University welcomed its most famous alumnus, Oprah Winfrey, with open arms to deliver the 2023 Spring Commencement address. Winfrey began her remarks by declaring “Who says you can’t go home again, because I’m back,” to the delight of the crowd. She also shared that TSU President Glenda Glover’s persistence paid off and was the reason for her appearance.
“Dr. Glover is the reason why I’m here, because she is relentless,” Winfrey said. Turning to President Glover, she added, “You actually don’t know the meaning of no. She’s been here a decade and has been asking me for a decade.”
Winfrey then went into a rendition of the University’s fight song, “I’m so glad I go to TSU,” a gesture that brought several graduates to their feet, while the crowd cheered her on through the course. The global media leader and Nashville native’s message was simple but impactful: Be good to people.
“This is what I know for sure. There will never be anything in your life as fulfilling as making a difference in somebody else’s,” Winfrey said.
“Everybody here wants to see you take your integrity, your curiosity, your creativity, your guts, and this newfound education of yours and use it to make a difference. Everybody always thinks you got go and do something big and grand. I tell you where you start. You start by being good to at least one other person every single day. Just start there.”
TSU President Glover believed Winfrey’s return was an amazing experience for students and a historical moment for the University.
“Oprah Winfrey is a phenomenal individual who embodies everything her alma mater, TSU, represents and was able to translate that to our graduates,” said President Glover. “I was excited to watch as she touched the spirit of students. They listened, applauded, while soaking in her knowledge.”
Regina Rogers, who earned her degree in arts and science, said Winfrey’s message was taken to heart and are words to live by. Rogers was among more than 600 TSU graduates sitting in awe of Winfrey and hanging on her every word.
“Oprah’s commencement speech was inspiring and one that will help guide us to our next level of life,” added Rogers, of Nashville. “I really loved her speech. I am going to take her speech and apply it to my life from here on.”
Former TSU administrator Barbara Murrell says that’s the Oprah she remembers, always willing to lend her talents to help and inspire others, even as a student.
“As Director of Student Activities at TSU when Oprah was a student, I was often asked to provide a student who could speak at University events,” recalls Murrell.
“I would call Dr. W. Dury Cox, TSU’s outstanding Speech and Drama Professor, and he would send Oprah Winfrey to do a reading or recite a poem for the occasion. She was always articulate, intriguing, and thought-provoking in her delivery. Her message was extremely well received by the audience.”
Murrell, who now serves as chair of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute at TSU, says one performance comes to mind when she reflects on this full circle moment for the talented orator, who attended TSU from 1972-1975.
“Our student center, during that time, served as a meeting place for the community. A professional women’s club, who provided scholarships for students, would always ask for a student to come, and do a reading or presentation to the group.”
She recalls Winfrey’s poetry reading touched the women so that several were left in tears. Murrell says hearing her commencement address touched her as well.
“These same characteristics are evident on her global platform today in which Tennessee State University helped to develop and nurture.”
Winfrey received her degree from TSU in 1988 after she was allowed to submit a paper and several of her tv show reels for credit. Now, 35 years later, Winfrey returned to her alma mater fully embraced for this full circle moment, from student to alumna and as commencement speaker.
More than 600 undergraduates received degrees in various disciplines. Watch the 2023 undergraduate spring commencement ceremony on Tennessee State University’s YouTube Channel.