By Emmanuel Freeman
Oprah! Oprah! Oprah! That was the deafening chant that permeated the 12,000-seat Hale Stadium on Saturday, as Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State University’s most famous alumnus made her triumphant return to her alma mater as the spring undergraduate commencement speaker. The throng of exciting fans poured onto the field trying to touch, get a glimpse of Winfrey or take selfies with the former student who has gone onto to gain fame as a global media leader, philanthropist, producer, actress and author. Oprah’s speech later did not disappoint either, as many jubilant graduates, parents, alumni, and others spoke about being inspired by one of the most respected and admired figures in the world.
TSU President Glenda Glover, at end of Winfrey’s speech, conferred on her the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, as a mark of respect and honor from her university.
“Oprah is really here at my graduation, wow! This is the most exciting moment of my life,” said Lauren Graves, of Louisville, Kentucky, who received her degree in social work. “I think it is awesome to be able to see someone as successful as Oprah come back and celebrate and inspire the next generation of successful individuals. It was an honor to be able to see her today, and to know that I am part of an alumni that include her.”
Kenneth Rolle II, outgoing president of the Student Government Association and urban studies major, couldn’t hold his excitement.
“I am motivated and inspired,” he said. “Dr. Winfrey just gave a great motivational speech about moving forward and how not to let obstacles get in our way. She gave her testimony about the obstacles she faced at TSU and how she was able to overcome them. I am very blessed to be able to follow in her footstep being a TSU alum. I can’t wait to have similar impact on the world post-graduation.”
“This has been a long time coming and to top it with Oprah, is mind blowing,” added Jada Carter, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who received her degree in accounting. “I am very excited. This feels so unreal. I love to see Oprah. She is very influential. I really look up to her. She is a very phenomenal individual. She gave an outstanding commencement speech.”
Jada’s parents, father Henry, and mom Viola, made the long trek from Milwaukee to see their daughter walk across the stage, but knowing that Oprah would be the speaker was an extra motivation, they said.
“Tennessee State has been an incredible opportunity for our daughter and bringing back Oprah as the speaker for ger graduation, is incredible and awesome,” said Viola Carter. “It is amazing that she shows the students how many opportunities are available to them. This lets our children know the greatness that they can become.”
“Oprah’s commencement speech was inspiring and one that will help guide us to our next level of life,” added Regina Rogers, of Nashville. She earned her degree in arts and science. “I really love her speech. I am going to take her speech and apply it to my life from here on.”
More than 600 undergraduates received degrees in various disciplines.