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Oprah Winfrey encourages graduates to ‘change the world’ during 2021 UCSB commencement speech

Oprah speaks to UCSB grads during virtual ceremony

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Class of 2021 concluded its time at UC Santa Barbara with a live-streamed online commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

The online commencement ceremony began with a message from UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang who spoke on the challenges that this year's graduating class had to work through.

During their freshman year, the Thomas Fire forced the school to postpone finals and, a short time later, the students had to withstand the devastating Montecito mudslide. Classes were affected again in their third year when the pandemic changed the world.

"The same passion and optimism that have helped you face these challenges will serve you tremendously as you embark on life’s next chapter," Yang said.

Media executive, talk show host, author and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey delivered the commencement speech.

She began with statements of encouragement to the Class of 2020 and 2021, saying they have shown their resilience by everything they have made it through.

"You'll be telling your story to your grandchildren," Winfrey said. "A story of surviving a global health crisis, of thriving and graduating during a pandemic. You already have in your young lives created a legacy of resilience, not giving up when the challenges kept coming. Making virtual reality, your reality. All the while, learning and growing and now moving into the next chapter of your life."

She said the graduates have gained strength through the pandemic and now have the power to change the world that they're inheriting.

"If the past 16 months have taught us anything from our global timeout, I hope it has allowed you to reflect on yesterday and to consider tomorrow, who you want to be as the world opens back up, not just what you want to do," Winfrey said.

She said the graduates can lead our planet into a new way of living based on their experiences.

"My hope is that you will harness your UC Santa Barbara education, your creativity, your valor, your voice, your vote, all that witness, all that you hunger for, all that you know to be true and use it lead us to a new way of being and collaborating on the planet with each other," Winfrey said.

The Classes of 2020 and 2021 were encouraged to look for ways to help solve problems in the world and always focus on serving others.

"Let service be your mantra. How can I be used in service to something greater than myself? Ask that question even when you just need the rent paid and your car insurance is overdue. Still, shift your thinking to the paradigm of how can I be used in service," Winfrey said.

She concluded by encouraging the graduates to always be curious.

"Don’t fret if you don’t know by now what your passion or purpose is. Everybody talks about passion and purpose. What’s important is to stay curious because curiosity will lead you to what you love," Winfrey said.

"You survived a worldwide crisis, which means you can do anything. I hope you always know how happy and incredibly relieved everybody is that you made it to this place, at this time, on this day, you get to finally graduate and we salute you, the UCSB classes of 2020 and 2021."

UC Santa Barbara awarded degrees to a combined total of 6,893 students, both undergraduate and graduate, from 2020 and 2021 this weekend.

Grad Walk processionals took place earlier in the week where graduating students crossed a stage and were photographed in front of the campus lagoon while their names were called.

To watch the full commencement ceremony, including Oprah's speech, click here.

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Bryce Hanamoto

Bryce Hanamoto is a producer and digital journalist for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Bryce, click here.

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Jessica Brest

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