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Oprah Winfrey tells commencement crowd: 'Oh my goodness. I'm at Harvard.''

Posted by Your Town  May 30, 2013 06:47 PM

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Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and talk show host Oprah Winfrey received honorary degrees from Harvard University today, as thousands of graduates, family members, friends and celebrities gathered for commencement activities.

When it was Menino’s turn to receive his honorary doctor of laws, he beamed, but was also solemn. Harvard Provost Alan Garber told the crowd that Menino is the “boss of Boston,” who has a passion for the people he serves.”

“He is known near and far as one of the most effective, dedicated, and deservedly popular servants to hold public office,” Garber said.

Garber said that during his time as mayor, Menino has invested his whole being into the city.

“He treats his constituents like family,” Garber said, adding that, “he has been a true friend of higher education and research.”

Winfrey clasped her hands as she stood to receive her honorary doctor of laws degree.

Harvard President Drew Faust delivered brief remarks as she conferred the degree upon Winfrey.

“Opening books, opening doors, opening minds to life’s possibilities, a bountiful altruist and a woman of valor whose audiences owe her a standing O,” she said of Winfrey.

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Winfrey, in a personal, at times poignant set of remarks, referred to her new network, and its less than stellar reviews, as she urged graduates to see setbacks as opportunities.

“Remember this. There is no such thing as failure,” she said to the large crowd fanned across Harvard Yard. “Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

On the steamy spring day, Winfrey energized the crowd when she took the stage, her excitement over speaking at the prestigious college on clear display.

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “I’m at Harvard!”

Some 32,000 people were expected to attend what are known as the Morning Exercises, which kicked off at 9:45 a.m. and continued through the day.

Harvard College graduate Melissa Niu of State College, Penn., said the commencement was a culmination of years of hard work.

"As much as it is an end, it really is a commencement," said Niu, 21, who studied computer science. "It's a new beginning for us, to use our 16 years of education in the real world."

As he stood just outside the campus gates, Edward Becker, 25, said that he has been impressed by the diversity of the student body, and how the Harvard community truly wants to better society.

"The students at Harvard are extremely motivated to do good," said Becker, who pursued his master's in architecture at the graduate school of design.

Sydney Green, 22, said that the past few days have been surreal.

"When I got the diploma, I couldn't believe it," she said with a smile. "This is a Harvard degree, with my name on it."

A New York police sergeant Jon Murad, one of the speakers this morning, urged the class of 2013 to use their newly conferred degrees to better society.

Murad said he is likely one of the few municipal cops in the US with two Harvard degrees, which is “not a boast, it is a lament.’’

“There is as much stature in our being social workers and teachers, soldiers and preachers, nurses and, yes, even cops, as being president and poets laureate,’’ said Murad, who got his Harvard undergraduate degree in 1995 and graduated from Harvard's Kennedy School today.

“The world needs people like you in these roles,’’ he added. “Success doesn’t mean rising to the top. It means changing the world. And here’s the secret: everyone changes the world. Everything ripples. It’s how we do it that counts.’’

During this morning’s ceremony, graduates wore red robes as the degrees were conferred, in a mix of solemnity and light-hearted moments. Some educators got a hug from Winfrey. An A Capella group sang a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.’’

After the morning event luncheons and diploma-awarding ceremonies took place at the undergraduate houses, Graduate and Professional Schools.

In the afternoon, Harvard’s president and Winfrey delivered their speeches.

“Oprah’s journey from her grandmother’s Mississippi farm to becoming one of the world’s most admired women is one of the great American success stories,” Faust said in a statement posted on the Harvard Gazette website in March. “She has used her extraordinary influence and reach as a force for good in the world, with a constant focus on the importance of educational opportunity and the virtues of serving others.”

Winfrey’s nationally syndicated talk show ran for more than 20 years, reaching an audience of over 40 million people a week in the United States as well as viewers from 150 countries, according to the Gazette. The Gazette also said that Oprah's book club has encouraged reading worldwide and featured many unknown authors.

Before Menino received his degree, the university issued a statement praising his leadership.

“As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Thomas M. Menino has shepherded the cradle of the American Revolution into the 21st century. In wedding major development projects to a focus on neighborhood renewal, Menino earned overwhelming popular support for his 20-year stewardship of what he often calls ‘the greatest city on Earth,’ ” the university stated

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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