OPRAH WINFREY, the first African-American woman to become a billionaire, has built an empire with her oratorical gifts and ability to engage with people of all ranks and backgrounds. Now she will share words of wisdom with the Class of 2013 and other Harvard graduates, their families, and alumni by serving as principal speaker at Harvard’s 362nd Commencement, the University announced today.
“I was taught to read at an early age,” Winfrey told the Academy of Achievement in 2011. “By the time I was three, I was reciting speeches in the church. They’d put me up on the program, and say, ‘Little Mistress Winfrey will render a recitation.’”
In what was called “a transformative moment for the television business” by The New York Times, Winfrey made history in May 2011 by ending the Emmy Award-winning Oprah Winfrey Show to start her own cable channel (OWN, short for the Oprah Winfrey Network)—the first time a talk-show host has created an entire channel. “I’m not going away, I’m just changing,” she said to the Times. “I’m just creating another platform for myself, which eventually will be wider and broader than what I have now.” In January 2013, for example, OWN received widespread attention when Lance Armstrong chose Winfrey as his confidant for a confessional interview about his long-denied use of performance-enhancing drugs. (Winfrey’s original, nationally syndicated show ran for 24 seasons, tackling topics such as divorce, sexual abuse, and philanthropic issues, and featuring exclusive interviews with celebrities and world leaders alike. It drew an audience of more than 40 million viewers a week in the United States and reached 150 countries around the world.)
Carl F. Muller ’73, J.D.-M.B.A. ’76, president of the Harvard Alumni Association, called Winfrey an “inspiration to people around the world who care about opening minds and serving the common good.” Her private foundation has awarded hundreds of grants to organizations that support education and the empowerment of women, children, and families around the globe. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa—an independent school dedicated to educating girls from all nine of South African’s provinces—recently graduated its second class of young women, all of whom plan to attend college.
“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,” said President Drew Faust in a press release. “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 will speak on May 30 during Commencement day’s Afternoon Exercises, which serve as the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. The exercises will take place in the Tercentenary Theatre of Harvard Yard, between Memorial Church and Widener Library.
article via harvardmagazine.com