- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Oprah Winfrey told Howard University’s graduating class yesterday that she had the opportunity to become a “billionaire 10 times over” by compromising her values, but she advised them to adhere to their principles as she has done in her career.

“Don’t be afraid because all you have to know is who you are,” Miss Winfrey said during her commencement speech before an overflow crowd of about 30,000 at one of the nation’s most prominent historically black universities. “You’re defined by what you stand for. Your integrity is not for sale.”

Miss Winfrey, 53, drew loud cheers from the moment she took the stage outside on the university’s main quadrangle. The popular journalist turned television talk-show host turned philanthropist also called on the 2007 graduates to “go forth and serve.”

“There is nobody more nurtured and prepared to lead us into an exemplary future than the Howard University graduating class of 2007,” Miss Winfrey said.

With tears in her eyes, Miss Winfrey accepted an honorary doctorate in humanities for her work in opening the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa this year, a project to which she personally donated $40 million.

“You can receive a lot of awards in life, but nothing is better than to be honored by your own,” Miss Winfrey said.

Howard President H. Patrick Swygert told Miss Winfrey her example “inspires all of us to grow.”

“You see with a journalistic eye and intellect, but you tell the complete story with your heart,” he said.

Many of the students took Miss Winfrey’s words to heart, saying the level of success she achieved from a humble beginning as a broadcast reporter at a Baltimore television station that told her she was “too big and too black” for the news, inspired them.

“She gave us everything we need to meet the real world,” said Marie Ayuk, 26, of the District, who graduated with a degree in nursing. “If you believe in yourself you can do it. You have to believe in yourself.”

Harold Wolfinger, 22, of the District, said Miss Winfrey’s commitment to her values inspires him most.

“You have to stay true to yourself,” he said. “I thought it was very humbling. Her achievements are outstanding.”

Daya Washington, 26, of Long Beach, Calif., graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and plans to go to law school. She said the speech as well as Miss Winfrey’s career was inspiring.

“It was enlightening and very powerful. She’s definitely a powerhouse,” she said.

Also awarded degrees in their respective fields were Julian M. Earls, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center; Henry Louis Gates Jr., creator of the PBS documentary “African American Lives”; Irene Sue Pollin, founder and president of the heart disease awareness group Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation; and Walter E. Massey, president of Morehouse College and former director of the National Science Foundation.

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