Winfrey collects honorary degree, speaks at Duke

Posted May 10, 2009

— Oprah Winfrey talked about courage, making wise choices and helping others during a commencement address Sunday at Duke University, which gave her an honorary degree.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker spoke at other college graduations Sunday in the Triangle.

During Winfrey's 25-minute speech beneath overcast skies, the talk show host told the 4,400 Duke graduates and their guests that "one of the best ways to enhance your own life is to enhance somebody else's" and to "stand proudly in your own shoes while you help others stand in theirs."

"How can I help somebody else move to higher ground? That is success. That's it. That's why we're all alive," she said.

She also emphasized the need to make wise choices daily, saying, "Each of us has to stand in our own shoes. Will you stand in them in humility and compassion and courage? Every day will give you a chance to make that choice."

“With a big name attached, it’s always a little bit more memorable. People are a little bit more excited,” Brian Arnold, Duke graduate, said of having Winfrey as commencement speaker.

Duke President Richard H. Brodhead presented Winfrey with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

She also had a personal connection with the 2009 class at the Durham, N.C., school. Her godson, William Bumpus, son of her well-known friend, Gayle King, was among the graduates.

"Will never wants people to know he knows me," Winfrey joked. "I'm like his crazy aunt that they let out at commencements."

Preceding Winfrey was student speaker Robert Paul Jones, a 2002 graduate who returned to Duke to receive his medical degree. He teased her about her celebrity, and pretended to be interrupted by a cell phone call as he began his remarks.

"Ms. Winfrey, apparently your limousine is double-parked in front of the chapel," Jones joked. "Duke Parking wanted me to let you know they won't release your honorary degree until you pay your parking fine."


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  • ncguy May 11, 2009

    She should have said: now all you graduates go back to your own country and stop taking jobs from americans!

  • this is my Screen Name May 11, 2009

    True, but many people receive an honorary degree, then add Dr, PhD or whatever after their name, as if they had really earned it.

  • Candlelove May 11, 2009

    I guess that's why it's Honorary...just and Honor to be recognized...

  • this is my Screen Name May 11, 2009

    Honorary degree = worth about as much as the paper it's printed on.

  • horsyset May 11, 2009

    Funny for her to preach about the graduates standing in their own shoes. She is constantly complaining on her show about how it about kills her to walk in the thousand-dollar shoes she buys by the dozen but can't stand to wear.