Class of 2017 Graduates with Inspirational Calls to Action from Speakers Oprah Winfrey and Deborah Bial


At Agnes Scott College’s 128th Commencement ceremony, 204 students received their diplomas and will begin the next step of their journey—going out in the world to make their mark on it. The diverse class of 2017 ranged in age from 20 to 47, hailed from 23 states and eight countries and included an inspiring 21 percent of first-generation students. Agnes Scott College has been a Posse Foundation partner college since 2013, and also notable is that among the class were nine students representing the college’s first graduating Posse Scholars from Chicago.

With majors in public health, psychology, business management, mathematics, economics and more, the new graduates are poised to succeed. A remarkable approximately 50 percent of them studied abroad in 33 different countries, including experiences Botswana, Fiji, Hungary, Jordan, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and China, and 78 percent of students completed internships at organizations such as DuPont, USAID, AT&T, The Home Depot, NPR, Global Growers, Norfolk Southern, the CDC, FEMA, and the High Museum.

Members of the class will continue their education in master’s, Ph.D., law and medical programs at institutions including the University of Edinburgh, University of California, Washington University, Columbia University, University of Alabama, Georgia State University, Vanderbilt and University of Texas-Austin. Other graduates will launch careers at organizations such as the Atlanta Braves, The Kroger Company, Cigna Health Insurance, Enterprise Holdings, Kemper Corporation and Ernst & Young. The class also included five Peace Corps volunteers, a Rotary International Peace Fellow, five Teach for America corps members, and five graduates who will be going to teach in Asia. 

“From your many experiences at Agnes Scott, Scotties, you have gained strength, knowledge, and inspiration for your futures,” said President Elizabeth Kiss, in her opening remarks to the class of 2017. “You have forged great friendships, celebrating one another’s successes, supporting each other through thick and thin and exhibiting a wonderful class spirit throughout your four years.”

In her inspiring commencement address, global media leader and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey encouraged graduates to live a life of substance, noting that the world needs them right now.

“The struggle is real out there,” said Winfrey. “The struggle to remain compassionate and the struggle to remain committed and the struggle to constructively engage—that's the struggle that you're in for class of 2017. But I'm betting on you, Agnes Scott women, I'm betting on you.”

Winfrey, who received an honorary degree at the ceremony, spoke passionately to the graduating class on the importance of service. Winfrey is one of the most active philanthropists in the world, donating more than $20 million to the creation of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, to which she has contributed more than $100 million to educate academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. A member of this year's senior class is a graduate of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

She also shared several words of wisdom with the graduates from the life lessons she has experienced, which included telling them not to fear failure. 

“Winning is great…but it’s the times when things go wrong, when you fall or fail, that you’re actually going to learn about yourself,” said Winfrey.

She closed her speech by reminding them: “It’s not just the big school with your name on it. It’s not the awards that you’ve received. It’s not the acclaim. It’s every single human being you have come in contact with; you have left your heart print and your legacy . . . Feel everything you do with love because every moment, you are building your legacy.”

Honorary degree recipient Deborah Bial, founder and president of The Posse Foundation, an award-winning national youth leadership and college access program, also received an honorary degree at commencement and gave a memorable charge to graduates.

“You are graduating today with a big choice. Because you have an Agnes Scott degree, your youth and each other, the whole world is open to you. This makes you privileged, and it gives you a voice that not everyone has,” said Bial. “And as you step off this stage with your degree in hand, your network around you and your newly paved street to success, you have a big choice. You can choose to stand by, or you can choose to stand up, and I ask that you stand up.”

She asked the class what role they would play in standing up for the many issues the country is facing, such as the environment, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and the right to vote.

In concluding her remarks, like Winfrey, she stressed to the graduates that they are being depended on to make a difference.

“We are relying on you to be strong and deliberate, to be clear thinking and compassionate, and resilient and brave. We are mothers. We are daughters. We are sisters. We are women’s rights leaders. We are civil rights leaders. We are human rights leaders. Look around, as individuals, we are strong, but together, we are an army,” said Bial.

Click here to view images from commencement.

Decorated mortar boards from Agnes Scott College's graduating class of 2017 as the graduates listen to Oprah Winfrey, the commencement speaker.