Friday, February 27, 2009

Oprah Winfrey Final Remarks at NAIS 09

"I believe in what you do" ~Oprah

She has sponsored young women to attend independent schools all over the country. Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa inspired by independent schools. Sharing her experiences - ups and downs - of having a school.

Benefited from nuns bringing Christmas gifts to her when she was a child on welfare. Wanted to do the same - spread the love, bring unexpected joy to children - in South Africa. During the 3 week effort, Nelson Mandela invited her to stay over his house for ten days. What to say? What to do? Stedman told Oprah, "Why don't you just listen for a change?"

When you educate a girl, you educate a community. Teen pregnancy, AIDS and other social ills go down. Battled the government and architects in an effort to make the Leadership Academy beautiful. Art can inspire. "Why do the girls need closets? They don't have anything to put in them." Why? Oprah: "Because I want to send the girls a message that they are valued."

Oprah was looking for an "IT factor" amongst the girls. Wanted young women who had something to fit in Leadership Academy. Do we, should we do that for Eagle Rock? These young ladies have lost their parents to AIDS, suffer sexual assault, live in poverty. Is it so wrong to be selective within that group of youth in need? I think we dance around that question in student admissions.

First biggest challenge: finding the right staff. Selected students first because she thought it would be harder to find the right kids. Then surprised by how difficult it was to find the right teachers. "I thought because the vision was so clear to me, it was clear to everyone." Not so. Looking for a head of school, dean of academics, counselor.... Issues with staff exist everywhere.

Second learning: "Projected budgets are made by people with a great sense of humor." Spent 2 1/2 times more than planned on everything. Oprah's school pays for everything: appendectomies, coats, braces, transportation. I thought Eagle Rock provided a lot (we do, but this is more).

Now, she's talking about the alleged sex abuse scandal at the Leadership Academy. The case has still not been resolved. The only way to deal with a crisis is to "stay in the moment." Don't get consumed by worst case scenarios. Stay in the moment, tell the truth. "If you tell the truth, you can be criticized but you can never be hurt."

Sidney Poitier's expectations of these girls: To be seated at every table where the decisions of the world are made for the future.

Final scene from Goodbye Mr. Chips. "I think I heard you say it was a pity that I never had any children. But, you're wrong. I had thousands of them. All boys." Oprah feels the same.

Great ending! So acknowledging of educators and saying, "I'm trying to do it too."

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