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Soledad O'Brien to Harvard grads: don't listen to advice

Posted by Your Town  May 29, 2013 06:23 PM

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On an overcast day in Harvard’s Tercentenary Theatre, Emmy-award winning journalist and senior Class Day speaker Soledad O’Brien urged the graduates not to listen to the advice of others.

O’Brien told the graduates that by refusing to listen to advice, they will be more likely to follow their dreams.

“If you go where your passion and your heart leads you, I guarantee you will have incredible experiences,” she said.

O’Brien, a CNN special correspondent, graduated from Harvard in 1988, according to the college. The speaker for Class Day, which is held the day before commencement, is selected by the seniors.

The college said that in 2011, O'Brien won an Emmy for her reporting on Haiti in the category of Outstanding Live Coverage of a Current News Story -- Long Form. O’Brien was a member of teams that won CNN George Foster Peabody Awards for coverage of the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina.

She was also the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow and RTDNA/UNITY 2010 award for her series, “Latino in America."

O’Brien intertwined the tale of her interracial parents into today’s speech, and how they “were excellent role models in not listening.”

“When their friends said, whatever you do, don’t have kids, because biracial kids will not fit in this world, well, I’m number 5 of 6,” she said. “My parents were terrible listeners, every step of the way. And from that, I’ve learned, do not listen to other people’s take on the life you should lead.”

They were married in 1958, when interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states, she said. People would occasionally spit on them, but O’Brien said her mother did not let that discourage her. Instead, she pushed forward, which ultimately led to all six of her children attending Harvard.

“[My mother] said, ‘we knew America was better than that, and we knew we had to be a part of making it better,’” O’Brien said. “That’s what it was about. She knew, that if you were knocked off your path every time someone spit on you -- literally or metaphorically -- you might not get where you were trying to go.”

O’Brien also told the graduating class to not let their world-class education go to waste, because they have a responsibility to better the world.

“You have the greatest education that money can buy, if you are sitting here. And that means that you have an obligation, because not everyone has the chance that you get to have, and that obligation is to use the power you have been given to help others who have not been quite so lucky,” O’Brien said, adding, “Do not let people kill your joy. You will find them, they will glom onto your shoes like gum. So I would advise you, starting today, remove people from your life who make you feel bad about who you are and who you want to be.”

To listen to O'Brien's speech in full, click here.

Katherine Landergan can be reached at For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

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

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