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‘This Is Your Time to Rise.’ Oprah Tells Graduates to Fight for Truth and Hope in a World ‘Off its Rocker’

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Oprah Winfrey urged graduates to “be the truth,” and “take a stand for our right to have hope,” speaking at the commencement ceremony of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on Friday.

“In about an hour and a half you’re going to be catapulted into a world that appears to have gone off its rocker,” Winfrey said, listing a series of problems: gun violence, climate change, systemic racism, media bias, economic inequality.

“The homeless need opportunity, the addicted need treatment, the Dreamers need protection, the prison system needs reforming, the LGBTQ community needs acceptance, the social safety net needs saving, and the misogyny needs to stop,” she said.

“This moment in time, this is your time to rise, even though you can’t go anywhere — you can’t stand in line at Starbucks, you can’t go to a party, you can’t go anywhere without everyone talking about how bad things are, how terrible it is. And this is what I know: The problem is everybody is meeting hysteria with more hysteria, and then we just are all becoming hysterical, and it’s getting worse.”

Oprah also offered graduates a path forward. “Here and now, I believe, you have to declare war on one of our most dangerous enemies, and that is cynicism,” she said. “Because when that little creature sinks its hooks into you, it’ll cloud your clarity, it’ll compromise your integrity, it’ll lower your standards, it’ll choke your empathy, and sooner or later, cynicism shatters your faith.”

Winfrey’s powerful speech at the Golden Globes in January set off speculation about her political aspirations and a potential presidential campaign. But she has said she has no such plans.

“I hesitate to say this because the rumors from my last big speech have finally died down, but here it is: Vote,” she said on Friday. “Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf.”

“If they go low — thank you, Michelle Obama — we go to the polls. People died for that right,” she said. “I think about it every time I cast a vote, so don’t let their sacrifice be in vain,”

Winfrey also left graduates with a list of simpler advice: eat a good breakfast, pay your bills, recycle, make your bed, aim high, say thank you, and put your phone away at the dinner table.

“I hold you in the light, and I wish you curiosity and confidence, and I wish you ethics and enlightenment. I wish you guts,” she said. “I hope you shake things up, and when the time comes to bet on yourself, I hope you double down.”

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com