Commencement Oratrix

Ms. Oprah Winfrey
Global Media Leader and International Philanthropist
Doctor of Humanities

Through the power of media, Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As supervising producer and host of the top-rated, award-winning “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today.

Ms. Winfrey began her broadcasting career at WVOL radio in Nashville while still in high school. At the age of 19, she became the youngest person and the first African-American woman to anchor the news at Nashville's WTVF-TV. In 1984, she moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV's morning talk show, "AM Chicago," which became the number one local talk show—surpassing ratings for “Donahue”—just one month after she began. In less than a year, the show expanded to one hour and was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which entered national syndication in 1986, becoming the highest-rated talk show in television history. In 1988, she established Harpo Studios, making her the third woman in the American entertainment industry to own her own studio.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” has remained the number one talk show for 20 consecutive seasons. Produced by her own production company, Harpo Productions, Inc., the show is seen by an estimated 48 million viewers a week in the United States and is broadcast internationally in 126 countries.

In April 2000, Ms. Winfrey and Hearst Magazines introduced “O, The Oprah Magazine,” a monthly magazine that has become one of today's leading women's lifestyle publications. In 2004, “O at Home,” a newsstand-only, quarterly shelter magazine designed to help readers create a home that reflects their personal style, made its debut.

Through her company’s film division, Harpo Films, she has produced projects based on classic and contemporary literature that have garnered the highest industry honors for quality acting and production. Ms. Winfrey made her acting debut in 1985 as "Sofia" in Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple," for which she received both Academy Award® and Golden Globe® nominations. Twenty years later, she made her Broadway debut as a producer for the musical, “The Color Purple,” which opened on December 1, 2005, at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.

Oprah has long believed that education is the door to freedom, offering a chance at a brighter future. Through her private charity, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, she has awarded hundreds of grants to organizations that support the education and empowerment of women, children and families in the United States and around the world. Amongst her various philanthropic contributions, she has donated millions of dollars toward providing a better education for students who have merit but no means. She also created "The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program," which gives scholarships to students determined to use their education to give back to their communities in the United States and abroad.

During a December 2000 visit with Nelson Mandela, Ms. Winfrey pledged US$10 million to build a school in South Africa. As that commitment broadened, she established The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, to which she has contributed more than US$40 million toward the creation of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls - South Africa, which opened in January 2007. Located in a 28-building campus in Henley-on-Klip, the Leadership Academy is a state-of-the-art independent school that engenders high standards of academic achievement and service leadership for girls from all nine South African provinces who show outstanding promise despite their impoverished backgrounds and social circumstances. Her vision is that the Leadership Academy will help develop the future women leaders of South Africa.

In a 1997 episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Oprah encouraged viewers to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others, which led to the creation of the public charity Oprah’s Angel Network in 1998. Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than US$50 million, with 100% of the donations funding charitable projects and grants across the globe and has helped establish 60 schools in 13 countries, create scholarships, support women’s shelters, and build youth centers and homes—changing the future for people all over the world.

Ms. Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and resides in Chicago, Illinois.