The Daily News
A "STUNNING" EXISTENCE
Winfrey shares stories, offers advice to students
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 1:19 AM
For related stories on student reaction, as well as photo galleries from the event, see bottom of page.
by Benjamin Dashley
Behind Oprah Winfrey’s $2.7 billion net worth are stories of pain, struggle and — eventually — triumph.
In her signature style, Winfrey took the stage with David Letterman on Monday evening, proclaiming “Ball State!”
The third installment of the Ball State alumnus’ “Conversation” series took a more serious tone than previous events. As soon as Winfrey sat down in her chair on John R. Emens Auditorium’s stage, Letterman asked questions about her upbringing.
“Tell me about Kosciusko, [Miss.],” he asked the media mogul.
Winfrey talked about her some of the positive aspects of her life: how she learned to read before she was 3, how she wished to be Diana Ross and how she skipped kindergarten because she wrote a note to her teacher.
Description of her happy times didn’t last, though.
“I grew up in an environment where children were seen and not heard,” she said.
Letterman asked her to clarify: “You were struck.”
“Oh, I was beaten regularly,” she replied.
One such beating, she said, stuck out in vividly in her mind.
“I went to a well to get some water and carry it in a bucket,” she said. “And I was playing in the water with my fingers, and my grandmother had seen me out the window and she didn’t like it.
“She whipped me so badly that I had welts on my back and the welts would bleed. And then when I put on my Sunday dress, I was bleeding from the welts. And then she was very upset with me because I got blood on the dress.
“So then I got another whipping for getting blood on the dress,” she said, as gasps filled Emens.
The stories continued. Letterman took Winfrey through each city she lived in throughout her childhood. At every turn, one story of pain after another thickened the air with emotion.
At age 6, Winfrey left her grandmother to live with her mother. While there, the woman in charge of keeping the house forced Winfrey to sleep on the porch. At 9, she was raped.
“He took me to an ice cream shop — blood still running down my leg — and bought me ice cream,” she said.
Starting at age 10, Winfrey was sexually abused until she was 14 years old, when she found out she was pregnant.
It was around this time that her mom took her to a detention home. Too many girls were housed in the home, so Winfrey couldn’t stay.
“My mother said, ‘You are getting your ass out of this house,’” she said.
So she went to live with her father, where she faced a terrifying realization. Her father forbade her from dating, having sex or any deviant activity. He didn’t know she was pregnant when she moved in.
Two weeks after she had the child, it died. It was painful, she said, but both Winfrey and her father saw this as a second chance.
It wasn’t until she was in an acting workshop this summer that her emotions about the situation surfaced again.
“I buried all of my feelings about it,” she said. “I really felt like that baby’s life — that baby coming into the world — really gave me new life. That’s how I processed it for myself.”
Even after she escaped her troubled childhood, Winfrey still faced struggles. When she went off to Chicago, her supervisors said they had no chance to compete against Phil Donahue, whom she would eventually take over in ratings.
Through all of the pain and struggle, Winfrey triumphed. She was thankful, she said, for everything that had happened.
“I would take nothing from my journey,” she said.
Winfrey remained humble when Letterman told her he was impressed with her life.
“You understand that this is stunning,” he said. “Your human existence is stunning.”
“I never thought of my life as stunning,” she replied. “It’s just my life.”
Letterman didn’t accept her answer, though. His mind was made up about Winfrey.
“Most people would use this life as an excuse,” he said. “You were not consumed; you prevailed.”