Oprah Winfrey has a highly decorated media career, winning 20 Emmy awards, a Tony award and a Peabody award, amongst many others. These feats may not have happened, however, if it wasn’t for a reality check from a college professor.
Winfrey, 69, started her sophomore year with a career in education in mind, she told 2023 graduates at Tennessee State University, her alma mater, during her commencement speech on Saturday.
“I was majoring in speech communication and drama. I wanted to be an actress, but my father had proclaimed that no daughter of mine is going to be on somebody’s casting couch,” she said. “And so I decided, all right, I will teach.”
Winfrey’s Scenic Design professor had other plans. During his class, she got a call from a lead news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV with a job opportunity. He’d heard her on the radio, a career she started in high school, and wanted to offer her an anchor position — but Winfrey initially turned it down
“I said no sir … My father says I have to finish school and school is just too important,” she recounted. “And I doubt that my dad would even let me do something like that.”
When Winfrey told her professor, he looked at her “as if I didn’t have a brain that God gave lettuce,” she said.
“He said, ‘this is what you get an education for. So that CBS Channel Five will call you. You and your father ought to know that,'” she told the students. “He rolled his eyes and he’s walking away. He said, ‘I’ll tell him myself,’ and he did.”
By her second semester of sophomore year, she changed her entire class schedule to be finished by 2 p.m. — from 2:30 to 10:30 pm, she worked at the news station, with enough time to be home before her dad’s “ironclad 11:00 curfew,” Winfrey said.
Winfrey’s career was already on the up and up before graduation, so she decided to stop pursuing her degree, opting to focus on work instead.
By the time she officially received her diploma in 1988, 13 years after her original graduation year, Winfrey had her own talk show, was on her third Emmy and in the early stages of launching Harpo Studios, her production company.
Winfrey now wears many hats, from journalist and host to actress, author and entrepreneur — all of which have helped her become the richest Black woman in America and first Black woman billionaire in the U.S., with a $2.5 billion net worth, Forbes reports.
She says she couldn’t have reached such heights without trusting in her faith and herself.
“At no time did I ever feel out of place or not enough or inadequate or an imposter,” she said. “Why? Because I knew who I was.”
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