There are a lot of things you could call my generation. We’re a group of people whose lives have been defined by Pokémon and Harry Potter, September 11 and technology. But, whether we like to admit it or not, there is one person who has hugely impacted our growth and beliefs: Oprah.
The talk show maven ended her 25-year run as the queen of daytime TV last week, and it truly is the end of an era. It’s hard to think of a childhood without my mom picking me up from school and rushing in the door so she could watch Oprah. I remember being a little girl and wondering why what this woman said was so important, not just to my mom (who wasn’t even much of a hard-core Oprah-phile), but my aunts and friends’ moms, sometimes even my dad (even if it was just by proxy because of my mother).
Oprah was the voice in the background of our childhoods, a teacher in the TV set. She tackled big issues like child abuse, education and politics in a way that made people care. She made reading part of the high tech, TV central society. She made the celebrities, whose faces were twenty feet tall at the movies, seem just like you or me.
One of the things that has made Oprah so miraculous is her rise to one of the worlds most powerful and recognizable people in spite of so much working against her. She started life poor, female and black; three traits that statistics say make it very hard to succeed. But she took what she was given and turned herself into the personification of the American dream. She set an example for my generation, the living proof that we can do what we want to do, we can achieve our dreams so long as
we work hard and we don’t give up.
The things she champions reflect her beginnings. She advocates for women, for the underprivileged and supports the advancement of African Americans in today’s society. She supports education, children and the idea of reading. Her mark in these places shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Would anyone have really heard of the Kindle if she hadn’t placed it at the forefront of her show? Bigger yet, would Obama have been elected had she not backed him as her choice for the presidency?
Saying she is the most powerful woman in Hollywood is probably an understatement. No one can sway opinions like Oprah, no one can sell a book like Oprah and if, God forbid, you pull a James Frey, no one can make you the shame of a nation quite like her either.
Some might think that someone with her set of ideals and skills might have squandered them by not running for public office (lord knows I’d vote for her if she ran for president), but, in reality, she’s done something much bigger. She’s shaped an entire generation by reaching us through our mothers, our teachers and, of course, our TV sets. We wouldn’t be quite the people we are today if we hadn’t grown up with Oprah in our living rooms.
So, as the world begins without a daily dose of celebrity interviews, book clubs and hard-hitting personal stories, I can’t help but wonder where I would be if Oprah Winfrey had never made it out of rural Mississippi and I can’t help but wonder who will be the voice in the background for my kids when I pick them up from school. Here’s hoping it’s someone as amazing as Oprah.