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oprah: what i know for sure

What I Know For Sure - hand

Four years ago today, I was sitting in the audience at Harpo Studios in Chicago, listening to Oprah Winfrey announce, “We’re going to Australia!” Being chosen as one of her Ultimate Viewers was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, one of the most emotional and one for which I will always be truly grateful. [Read more…]

paws up for the ultimate day “o” service in chicago! by julie lemerond

This past Saturday, many of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers decided to pay it forward with an Ultimate Day O Service as a tribute to Ms. Winfrey herself. Here, care of Julie Lemerond, is what went on in Chicago:

Last year, 302 of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers were invited on the trip of a lifetime to Australia with Ms. Winfrey herself.  That trip, as special as it was, really was just the beginning of something even bigger.

Throughout the trip, Oprah would speak with us often.  She would ask us to not just go home from the trip and relive it through showing off photos and mementos, but to really go back and DO something to show your gratitude.  DO something to make the world a better place.

We were chosen for this trip because we understand her message; we get it.  We know that giving feels better than receiving.  We know that small acts have the power to create huge rewards.  We know that intention is everything.  We know that it takes a village. And we know all of this because of Oprah.

So it was with this spirit that we created the Ultimate Day O Service.

My group volunteered at PAWS Chicago, the Midwest’s largest No-Kill animal shelter.  What was beautiful about our experience was not just playing with fuzzy little furballs, but meeting the big-hearted people who work there.

Paula Fasseas, the founder of PAWS, talked with us about their mission to create a No-Kill City of Chicago by spaying and neutering.  Their services are low-cost, but they even offer free services in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods where pet owners would otherwise not be able to spay or neuter their animals.  Having this clear mission and goal has made PAWS one of the most successful No-Kill shelters in the country and a model that other cities come to learn from.

After learning more about PAWS from Julie Braeutigam, our volunteer coordinator extraordinaire, we broke up into groups and either played with the animals or helped with administrative tasks.  After awhile, our groups would switch places with each other.  Not only were we in the presence of wonderful employees and volunteers of PAWS, but we were also reconnecting with each other for the first time since our life-changing trip to Australia five months ago.  Some of us were getting to know each other for the first time, and we all got along just beautifully.  It was as if that Oprah Dust was still sprinkled on our shoulders and in our lives.  (Actually, as time goes on, I realize that this “Oprah Effect” will never leave me.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.)

But the true beauty of what our day consisted of had perhaps nothing to do with these amazing humans surrounding me.  I was just so happy to be around the dogs.  I have grown so much since adopting my dog Maggie from the Maricopa Country shelter nearly three years ago.  The ways in which she has taught me about life far outweigh me teaching her to “sit” or “lay down.”

Animals live in the present moment.  They don’t wonder what they will be doing five minutes from now, or worry about what they did five minutes ago.  They only know the present.  As a yoga teacher I am always teaching people to be present, connect with their inner selves, and just simply be.  But even though I can teach it, I am still always trying to learn it myself.

And that is what animals do.  They simply be.  Even more than that, they offer unconditional love, they forgive, they don’t hold grudges, they are always happy to see you, they are appreciative of your presence … the list of redeeming qualities goes on and on.

They are, in essence, the perfect examples of what Oprah has always taught us to be:  Present.  Loving.  Giving.  Seeking.  Curious.  Hungry.  Happy.  Peaceful.  Content.

Drinking life in with huge gulps.

There is a suite in PAWS that was donated by Oprah and is dedicated to Sophie, her beloved cocker spaniel that passed away.  I walked in and immediately my eyes got hot with tears.  It was at that moment that I was joyful for everything I had experienced because of Oprah, aware of how much I have grown because of her, humbled by how much she has given me, and proud of what I am doing now because of her.

Read about the Atlanta Ultimate Day “O” Service here.

our atlanta ultimate day “o” service by keisha kuma

This past Saturday, many of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers decided to pay it forward with an Ultimate Day O Service as a tribute to Ms. Winfrey herself. Here, care of Keisha Kuma, is what went on in Atlanta:

“We’re going to Australia!!!” Oprah told us in her own inimitable way. As the studio erupted into joy, disbelief, laughter, and tears, no one in that audience was prepared for the journey in which we were about to embark. It wasn’t just the breathtaking views from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the delectable delights from the world-renowned chefs. It wasn’t just the rock star treatment or the rocking out with Jay-Z and U2. The journey began way before we left for Australia and it will continue long after The Oprah Winfrey Show has left the air. The journey began in the hearts of all 302 around the world. It began in Kenya, Jamaica, Canada, and almost every state in the U.S. It began with all of our stories that connected us to Oprah and to one another. It continues with our commitment to continue to pay it forward.

As we came down from our Aussie high, we kept reliving memory after memory with one another via text, phone calls, and social media. The one thing we knew for sure is that we would not let our connection fade simply into a wonderful memory. We decided that a reunion was needed and it had to be in Chicago on the weekend that Oprah was ending her show! We had a date and, in true Oprah form, we also had a purpose. We would use that weekend to pay it forward. We knew that it would be impossible for everyone to make it to Chicago, but that was not going to stop us. We decided we would do an Ultimate Day O Service in every city possible — and we did.

I had the privilege of heading the Atlanta UDOS. As I looked for places for our Ultimate Viewers to volunteer, I wanted to ensure that we would be wherever we were most needed. Tamika Longino told me about Nursecare of Buckhead, where her husband’s grandmother was a resident. I knew before she finished telling me about the facility that it was where we should be. What better place to kick off our Ultimate Movement than with family? Charity starts at home.

To begin the day, I handed out blue shirts to all the volunteers as a tribute to our wonderful family at Event Architects who had taken care of everything for us on our trip Down Under and whom we lovingly referred to as “The Blue Shirts.”

We then went off to meet, greet and escort our new friends down to the game room. We were ready to get this party started!

Our first mission was to give the residents of Nursecare a little of the pampering that Oprah gave us. It was time for manicures and massages.

Once our new family was thoroughly relaxed, they were ready for B-I-N-G-O! Most of the residents were ready for some heavy-duty competition although it looked like our massages may have been a little too much for one member!

We served treats, did some dancing and crowned our new bingo queen!

Our UDOS was full of laughter and lessons. Our children learned the importance of giving back to your community and doing for others. They also saw how far a smile, a touch, and a kind word can go. All the kids asked when they could come back and what they could do next. They made many friends there who asked the same questions.

So we are committing to visit with Nursecare of Buckhead at least once a quarter. Our next UDOS is scheduled for September 10, and we can’t wait! Stay tuned for our next adventure.

Read about the Chicago Ultimate Day “O” Service here.

From Paradise to Home via Oprah by Meredith Lee

Our good friend, Meredith Lee, may not be an official Ultimate Viewer but Oprah had — and continues to have — a huge impact on her. Oprah inspired her to make the most important move — literally — of her life, and Meredith, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, is paying it forward by inspiring others to fight for their own lives. Meredith, you go, girl!

Nineteen years ago I moved to Ft. Lauderdale on a friend’s suggestion.  She said it was like “Paradise.” Within three days, I secured a great job in a beautiful five star resort by the intercostal waterway, moved into a cute little apartment on a canal and bought a car.  It really did seem like paradise — until three months later when I was leaving work one night to get to my car and was the victim of a random assault.

Aggravated battery erased any resemblance of this city to “Paradise” for me. In fact, it had become the opposite, and I wanted more than anything to go live somewhere else but I had used up all my money moving to “Paradise.”  I stayed there uneasily for two uncomfortable years until I saw an Oprah show in which her guest had written a book, The Best Places to Live in America. I was riveted. She showed a short video clip which featured maybe five seconds about a town called Fountain Hills, Arizona. The words that came across loud and clear to me were, “…with a nearly zero crime rate.” I said out loud, “That’s where I want to live.”

Three weeks later, with my boyfriend in tow, I was living in Fountain Hills. It meant a lot to me that he had taken me seriously. We enjoyed the drive across the country even though we got a flat on every tire at least once during the long journey. The day we arrived, it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought I had made the mistake of my life. It was an extremely “dry heat,” an expression that Arizonians – one of which I am proudly now – find hilarious.

I love the wildlife and natural beauty here in Arizona. We are often delighted by javelinas, roadrunners, and a host of cacti, bugs and raptors. This is Paradise to me. I feel safe and secure, and have never looked back.

I thank Oprah every day for inspiring me to make the move. One trusted woman completely changed my life.

I have come to realize the importance of inspiration and change on an even deeper level as I embark on a whole new journey myself. In January I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know, though, that I am a fierce warrior and now understand that I was put on earth to inspire others to fight this disease and never give up.

Thank you, Oprah. I’m sorry I never did get to tell you how much you changed my life.

Flirting with Australia by Noelle Elliott

Our fellow Ultimate Viewer, Noelle Elliott, waxes poetic about our hosts Down Under. As they themselves cheer, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie — oi, oi, oi!” 

I have a few typical labels. I am a mother of four boys under seven. I have a career, and work full time. I am an Ultimate Viewer who traveled to Australia with Oprah. Wait! That is not so typical.

I have been asked several times how I got so lucky to have been chosen for that trip. I believe that something I desired just a year earlier led me to that trip. I was pregnant with my fourth son, sitting on the couch one late night, eating ice cream with my husband. I told him that my life was starting to get a little, well, mundane. It wasn’t a bad life. I was happy; I just felt that it lacked, well, adventure.

As I polished off a bowl of mint chip, I told him that I wanted to be more adventurous, maybe get a tattoo. He supported me as he always does, and I went on with my life as usual.  I dismissed this conversation completely until I was laying on our bed amongst overstuffed suitcases, hesitant to embark on the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Being that I had never traveled farther than Hawaii, I was nervous about leaving for 10 days. It was then that he reminded, “You said you craved adventure, and here you are, going on the ultimate Australian Adventure. Don’t worry about us. Go and enjoy every second of it.”

I had ordered this trip, and the universe had delivered. I took my husband’s words to heart. He’s a fourth grade teacher and it was not easy for him to take care of four young boys —  ages 7, 6, 3 , and 7 months — but he was willing to do so because he knew I needed it. 

We landed in Australia with the secret password, “Oprah” which unlocked the door and took us from ordinary to extraordinary.  We all had a common thread that held us together: we admired Oprah.  We were treated like royalty by everyone from the guard in customs, to the Aborigine man who blessed us as we walked into a red carpet gala. I mistakenly thought this was because we were with the big O, but I soon learned that it was just the way Australians are.

If it is possible to flirt with a country, I did so, fearlesslywith the food, the ocean, the land and the people. And it flirted back, without abandon!   I have severe motion sickness — the kind that makes it impossible for me to even ride shotgun in a car — but that was not going to stop me. I came prepared with a prescription patch and sea bands. I was not going to say “no” to anything.  I had signed up for adventure and, by God, I was going to do it.  I sailed. I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I surfed. I snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. I laughed — a lot. And I lived. It was during this visit that my life went from pastel to Technicolor. I was the same girl, just enhanced.  Australians have sunshine coming out of their pores, a way about them that just exudes happiness.

People asked if I missed my husband and boys. I did, but I found comfort in watching other children and families enjoying their surroundings. My best friend of 25 years was my guest on the trip. She joked that I was stalking babies wherever we went. I would ask strangers if I could touch their baby, and by the end of the conversation we had exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch. I met fellow viewers that will be my friends for life. As we sailed the Sydney Harbour, I had a humbling moment when I realized I hadn’t thought of my family back home for most of the day. I had been completely present up until that point.  That is the highlight of my trip. Me, lying on the front of a sailboat, in a net, watching the sail, feeling the sun on my skin.  Australia, like a good cup of coffee had woken me up.

As we were ready to board the plane home, Oprah met us at the airport to send us off personally.  I have watched Oprah since I was a child, and I find a familiar comfort in her face, but as I approached her I felt a little nervous.  She shook my hand and I told her that I was going home a better mother, a better person.  She put her hand over mine and smiled. “Well, it must have been one heck of a trip,” she laughed. And, with that, I confidently embarked on the other Ultimate Adventure which is my own life — this time, with a new perspective that only the Aussies and Oprah could have given me.

more tributes from oprah’s ultimate viewers

Here are some more tributes to Oprah from my fellow Ultimate Viewers. I wish you could get to know these people the way I did — and I wish I could spend more time with them! Remember their names because they just may change the world.

Janet Glazer

I have been watching Oprah since she was on People Are Talking in Baltimore where I grew up. I continued to watch her through the years and watched her evolve.

After my husband passed away, I was sitting on the couch, depressed, watching The Oprah Show, when Nate Berkus came on. He had lost his partner in the tsunami, and was talking to a woman who had lost her son. She told him that she couldn’t move on because every birthday and holiday made her sad. Nate explained that he no longer gave dates any power, but just allowed the memories to come and go. This was a powerful “aha” moment for me, and gave me the courage to move on. I shared this story with a group and I saw tears from a woman who had lost a child and how strongly this resonated with her as well.

Since then, I’ve sold my house, sent my daughter off to college, retired and moved to Florida. I have begun a new chapter in my life just as Oprah is doing the same. I feel, since the trip to Australia, life has changed for me forever as I work to retain all the lessons that Oprah has taught. When I get down, I stop and focus on the present and reflect on how fortunate I am, and how I can serve others. I am so glad to have met the other Ultimate Viewers who feel the same way I do. Thank you all for sharing your inspirational stories.

Our grandchildren will be reading about Oprah in history books. I feel so blessed to have met her in person and fulfill a dream that I never thought would be possible.

Avalon Middleton

Every afternoon, after I came home from school, my mom and I would sit down and watch The Oprah Show. Ever since I was in middle school it became a tradition for us to do this. When I look back on her show, I realize how much I learned from Oprah. She taught me to think on a global level and be knowledgeable about what was going on in the world. I was then inspired to be a more active participant in making changes in the world, no matter how small.

There was one episode in particular that really resonated with me. It was the episode where Oprah presented the program, Challenge Day. The high school I attended often had problems where students felt isolated and felt that they did not belong. Challenge Day was designed to help schools solve these problems. Through the group I co-founded, Teenagers Against Prejudice, my school was able to bring Challenge Day to my high school. In the letter my mom wrote to Oprah, the one that got us invited to a show, she spoke about our tradition as well as my involvement with TAP.

I never imagined that one day I would be a guest in Oprah’s audience, let alone receive such a huge gift from her. I was shocked when my mom told me that we had been invited to attend a taping. I was close to saying that I could not go because I was worried about missing classes! Thankfully we decided to go to the show. It was exciting enough that I was going to a taping, and I NEVER could have guessed that we would get a trip to Australia.

That trip will be one of the most amazing experiences in my life, and I was so glad that I got to share it with my mom. Not only did I have incredible adventures in Australia, but I also met so many special people (like my San Diego “moms” who run this site!). I cannot thank Oprah enough for the trip and, even more importantly, for all the lessons I learned from her.

Julie Lemerond(Freelance Writer)

“Become More of Yourself”

I first saw these words on a greeting card in The Oprah Store, shortly after receiving the trip of a lifetime to Australia from Ms. Winfrey.  I brought the card home with me and promptly placed it on my refrigerator door, where I could be reminded of that message every day.  Three months later, 302 of us met in Los Angeles and boarded our Qantas flights to Sydney, absolutely giddy with anticipation.

The beauty of our trip was not in the lavish meals that we ate or the ornate hotel rooms in which we slept.  To me, the real beauty of the trip was about the slow swelling of internal knowledge that I am worthy of such beauty, and that I am deserving of nothing less.  Because I am alive, the world is available for me to experience whatever I want from it.  It was during those 10 days in Australia that I learned the true meaning of those four small words, those six simple syllables, which had been posted on my refrigerator months before.

I saw butterflies everywhere while Down Under.  I knew they were a symbol of the transformation I was undergoing.  On our last day of the trip, I found a butterfly ring, its wings filled with amber stones, and purchased it as a reminder of the growth and evolution that life is.  I wear it daily, never forgetting the power of its symbolism.

Become More of Yourself, Oprah asked.  I will, my heart answered.

Rhonda Van Ness Reyes

It’s amazing the power one single woman has over so many people: the power of love, strength, hope, inspiration and influence … the list goes on and on. All of this explains why my dad, Larry Van Ness, has loved Oprah and her show for all these years.

When I heard them say at the end of an Oprah show back in July 2010, “If you are or know an Ultimate Viewer, please write in and tell us your story,” I knew I had to tell them about my Dad, who refers to Oprah as “his other woman” and quotes her all the time. Little did I know that my letter poking fun at his crush on Oprah and asking if they could get him tickets to a show so he could cross that off his bucket list would forever change not only his life but my entire family’s life.

Our ride was about to start and what a crazy ride it was! My dad had the experience of a lifetime, starting with a surprise visit from NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson who brought my Dad a DVD of Oprah inviting “Larry and his barber chair” to come to her show, then going to the season premiere where Oprah gave the whole audience the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Wait, you have to say it like this –Auuuuustraaaaaaallliiiaaaaaa!!!!

I would like to thank Oprah for a trip that was out of this world and something that my family could never have done without her. We were the only family there out of 302 Ultimate Viewers. There were couples, sisters, best friends, but we — as in my dad, stepmom, brother and sister — were the only whole family. How lucky we were!!

Oprah not only brought us together as a family but also gave us friendships that we will have forever. We have such a unique bond with this group of people. Oprah truly has touched so many people in so many different ways.

Thank you, Oprah, for making my dad’s dream come true. If he is going to have another woman in his life, it’s okay as long as it’s Oprah.

Faunlee Van Ness Gooley

My 11 year old son and I watched the final Oprah show together yesterday, which, trust me, has never happened before! He sat through the whole show, never getting up to go do something “better.” He just sat there taking it all in. When the show was over, he grabbed his iTouch and started typing what I assumed was just another email to his buddies. To my surprise, it was an email to Oprah! Yep, he heard her give out her new address and decided he wanted to write her! This is what he wrote…

Dear Oprah,

My grandpa is Larry Van Ness and I just want to thank you for everything you have done for all of the people that you have had on your show. I thank you for letting our family have a great experience not only watching your show, but also surprising my grandpa. You have inspired me to do things to help my community. As I said earlier thank you for everything you have done.

Sincerely, Harrison

Well, that is it. I just had to share how Oprah has touched another generation, even on her last show!

Felicity Gibbs

Being 30, my whole conscious life I have known the name “Oprah.”  Babysitters watching The Oprah Show while I played.  I spent summers learning about AIDS, racism, what being “gay” means, how to apply make-up — all in the classroom of Oprah, always in the background of my youth.  She has been a constant in my life.  Sure she has entertained me, enlightened me and educated me but she has done something much greater than that for me, as well (although, really, the aforementioned would have been plenty).  Oprah Gale Winfrey showed me that miracles do and can happen every day if you let them.

I was one of the lucky few that got to be in the audience that warm September day when we were told of our trip to Australia. For me, it was life-changing.  It came at a time when I was very low — recently laid off, broke, 30 years old and never been out of the country, a young woman so lost and defeated.  That trip, her words, and the people I met and still communicate with showed me the beauty of the world again.

That magic can happen for everyone.  Your world can change in an instant.  I don’t pretend to know God, but Oprah gave me faith.  For that, I am so eternally grateful.

Brandii Nicole – (Honey Bii Blogspot)

Oprah taught me how to smile. A smile means that I am confident, determined, and secure. She taught me how to always hold my head up high and face any obstacle.

Oprah also taught me that we all have a purpose in life. When you find that purpose, hold on to it. The purpose will make you a better “you.”

Mary Elizabeth Shah

Oprah entered my life when I most needed her. I lost my mom to lung cancer and was happy for her to be released into the universe. She sacrificed a lot in her life and tried to be the best mom she could be while dealing with schizophrenia and raising three children. As my mom faded in and out of my life dealing with schizophrenia, Oprah was there as a constant with wisdom, love, and guidance through my college years and my adult years. Oprah has helped me to be a better mom, wife, teacher and person in this world. I now listen to life’s lessons and strive each day to make the most out of life.

It was an amazing experience to share the trip to Australia with my sister who also sacrificed a lot in our family as the oldest child. Oprah, over the years, gave me the amazing gift of teaching me how to drop all of my childhood baggage and move on in my life “baggage-free.”

The trip to Australia will always be held close my heart and a reminder that I have the power — and always had the power — to make the dreams in my life come true. I’m living the dream and creating new ones along the way!

I love you, Oprah, and thank you. Blessings to you in the next chapter of your life.

Liz Kazungu

What I will miss most about The Oprah Show are the “aha” moments when I was able to think about something differently or learn from a guest on the show. There was not a show I watched from which I felt like I did not take away something that would have an impact on my life. I shall miss this deeply.


Julene Fleurmond – (Dreamfleur)

How can I say thank you to someone for 25 years of inspiration and encouragement, an unexpected trip to the other side of the world and memories to last a lifetime? Oprah Winfrey has been one of my greatest role models since I was a child, and her example gives me the motivation to rise in perseverance despite life’s circumstances, and the belief that with God anything is possible.

I’ve been watching her show since I was a preteen. Oprah has become a mentor from afar for me growing up and in my own budding career in media and entrepreneurship, inspiring me to start a creative company as a teen and pursue journalism in college. Seeing her, a woman of strength who also came from a background of poverty, encourages me use my talents to overcome and serve to give hope to those who are less fortunate.

As many of her Ultimate Viewers have expressed, I not only watch the show but also hope to be a conduit that continues portraying what the show represents: living with boldness, telling the stories of others and sharing our blessings. Last summer my mother and I went to Haiti (where my mom was born) to visit family there and to serve. I was so impacted by the trip and Oprah’s example of service and philanthropy to continue to find ways to enrich the lives of the children and people of Haiti.

I also feel moved my Oprah to inspire other people, especially young people, to discover their purpose and serve others with their talents, and through the show’s example I’ve created a youth program through which I do motivational speaking, and a network of online inspirational sites for youth and adults that are created to inspire and motivate others to reach for their dreams.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from The Oprah Show is that everyone has a story and a purpose, and that we are all more connected then we may appear. Through every guest Oprah has interviewed, she brings out the nuances and essence of the human spirit. I loved hearing the stories of some of the other Ultimate Viewers in Australia and am grateful to have shared that time with such an amazing group of people, who are so different yet have so much in common.

The one regret I have about the trip is that in my shyness I did not personally tell Oprah how much she has inspired me. Since I was a little girl, I have struggled with shyness and insecurity. I had an “aha” moment at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge when I discovered that the same boldness with which I faced my deep fear of heights to climb to the top of the bridge is the same courage that could carry me through life. Seeing how free and open Oprah was in person made me realize that fear causes one to be less present and to miss out on the most amazing moments in life.

The Oprah Effect by Ultimate Viewer Cecelia Behar-Bush

All week, we’re posting Oprah tributes and stories from the Ultimate Viewers who we met on our trip Down Under. You may remember Cecelia Behar-Bush from the second Australia show, where she announced to her husband that she was pregnant! A life-changing moment on a life-changing trip — once again, Oprah had worked her magic!

I have been an Oprah “Ultimate Viewer” for basically as long as I can remember. I started watching Oprah when I was 12. My mom was a single mom who worked multiple freelance jobs at all hours and was rarely home after school. My older sister watched General Hospital at 3:00 every day, so when I got home I would watch with her.  After her show was over she would usually make us lunches for the next day and start dinner and I’d watch cartoons or Little House on the Prairie. Then one day, there was the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show. I don’t know why I decided to start watching that day, but I am so thankful that I did. I am who I am today because of that decision, because of Oprah Winfrey.

I had never seen anyone like Oprah before. She was smart, funny, courageous, and just so honest. And she was different. She wasn’t the blond, Barbie-looking woman who I was so used to seeing on TV and in the town I where I grew up. She was beautiful in a different way and she was REAL. I had always longed to be blond and blue-eyed and “perfect” – it seemed to me that was the only way you were heard as a woman. Oprah changed that idea for me. I heard her. EVERYONE heard her. And what we heard, for the most part, were our inner thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams coming out of this amazing woman. I understood, even at 12, that she was special and that she understood ME.

I can’t even begin to sum up everything that Oprah has taught me or meant to me, but I know what my “Aha” moment was. Coming from an abusive home, I had been raised to believe that abuse was not something you talked about. It was not something to even acknowledge within your own family, let alone with an entire nation. So I, like so many others, hid mine. I buried it deep inside me and let the pain of it eat away at me. I told myself that what my sisters and I endured was normal, that it probably happened to everyone. I convinced myself that it wasn’t really abuse – it was just the way that things were in our house.

Then one day Oprah opened up about her abuse. Hers was both sexual and physical in nature while mine was only physical, so my first inclination was to separate myself from her experience. But the fact was, the way we handled our abuse was the same. And as I heard her speaking so candidly about her pain and her reactions to her abusive experiences, I felt like she was talking directly to me. I was in awe of her. I couldn’t believe her courage. I still can’t.

It took me years to talk openly about my abuse, and it took my sisters even longer (perhaps because neither were Oprah viewers). But when I finally decided to go to therapy and start opening up about it, it was Oprah’s voice and courage that I carried with me. And once I started talking about it, I began to change. I felt lighter and more honest. I lost the actual, physical weight that I had put on like some kind of armor. I was becoming my true self. And my true self wanted to help people just like Oprah had helped me.

I put myself though school for a second time (I was originally an actress and singer, and have a BA in Drama), this time for Counseling. I became a certified school counselor and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. And, although I have always struggled with learning disabilities, I graduated with a Masters Degree in Counseling and a 4.0 average. I got a job soon after graduation working with “at risk” youth, which I still do today. Oprah’s strength had become my strength and now I do my best to “pay it forward.”

Although I had made these changes in my life, there was still something that terrified me. I was terrified of becoming a mother. And yet there I was, married to a wonderful man who desperately wanted children, and at an age where a decision was going to have to be made. But how could I be a mother? Abuse is cyclical.  How would I not repeat my abusive family history? Don’t get me wrong — I loved kids, I always had, but could I raise one without hurting him or her? Again, the answers to these questions came from an Oprah episode in the form of a Maya Angelou quote: “When you know better, you do better.” It became my mantra and I took the leap into motherhood.

When my daughter was born, I suffered from post-partum depression, and of course, it was The Oprah Show that helped me get through it. In my depression I believed that all my fears had come true and that I was not worthy of being a mother, that I had made a mistake. I was so deep inside my own darkness, pain and fear that I could not see out of it. I felt completely lost. Then one day I remembered Brooke Shields talking to Oprah about her post-partum depression and a light went on in my head. I got the help I needed because of that show. Because of Oprah, I was able to actually BE a mom. And every time I laugh and love and connect with my daughter, I know that I have Oprah to thank.

When my husband and I started trying to have a second child, we just assumed it would happen as easily as it had with our first. But after two years and trying just about every medical intervention possible, things were not looking good. I was a wreck by then so we decided to stop using medications and try to let go of the dream of a second child.

A few months later I was chosen as an Ultimate Viewer, and my husband and I got to join Oprah and 300 of the most amazing people we have ever met on a trip to Australia. About halfway through the trip, I found out that I was pregnant! We hadn’t used any drugs in over five months. There were literally no changes made that would have given us a better chance at conceiving. The only difference was that I knew we were going to Australia with Oprah and that was pretty much all I thought about! Clearly, there is something to be said about the power of distraction.

After I found out I was pregnant, I did what any good wife in my situation would do — I withheld that information from my husband and told one of the amazing Harpo producers instead. She then told Oprah and, together, Oprah and I surprised my husband with the news while the cameras rolled. It was an out of body experience to say the least! Once my husband and I returned home, we kept our secret from friends and family and let them find out by watching The Oprah Show with us. Their reactions were priceless.

Meeting Oprah had been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Being able to go to Australia with her, getting to tell her how she changed my life, and then finding out and telling my husband that I am pregnant with our second child while she stood across from me … I still can’t process the profound effect that has had on me. But that’s what happened! To me!! It’s hard to wrap my brain around it. I am forever changed and will be forever grateful.

So how do I now say goodbye to the woman who was my role model when I did not have one? The woman who gave me a voice when mine was silent? Who had courage enough for countless others to draw from? I don’t know.

I do know that I will miss “seeing” her everyday. I know that I will cry during the last show and selfishly wish that her show were not ending. But in the end, I also know that she has a permanent home in my heart and that because of her, I am a better person. I have trusted in her this long, so I will trust her to continue in whatever way she is being called to do so. No matter what she does, I know I will always remain an Ultimate Viewer of her journey.

Tributes to Oprah from Her Ultimate Viewers

As promised, all week we’re going to be posting tributes to Oprah from our fellow Ultimate Viewers. These are the people we went to Australia with, the people who moved us with their stories and who inspire us with their compassion. They are people we are now proud to call our friends.

We’ve included websites for anyone who has one, so you can see some of the incredible work Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers are doing.

We paid tribute to Oprah ourselves today, when reporter Marcella Lee of KFMB Channel 8 in San Diego came over to watch the second to last show with us. We tried not to go into the ugly cry, but…


TiGre McNear

TiGre McNear FamilySome think it is strange when children have imaginary friends. I find it rather intriguing that anyone would believe someone or something invisible can be so detrimental to the development of one’s entire existence. Oprah has been that to me.

When my 13-year-old life spiraled into darkness, Oprah, my imaginary friend, was there to give me a glimpse of light. I knew that the God that I loved had sent me a representative of Himself so that I would not stray too far from the road He had chosen for me. She had actually lived what I was going through and she would understand my tears. I would write two letters weekly, one to God and one to Oprah. My hope was that they were both connecting with me through the atmosphere.

As I grew into adulthood, I was forced into the reality that my imaginary friend would have to go. I didn’t want to appear crazy, so I found solace in the fact that I could tap into her world at any time because I had stored inside of me every lesson and every encouraging message that she had shared. I knew that God was listening all the time, so when I was about to tell my imaginary friend good-bye for good, He released the connection from the atmosphere and I was invited to go to the premiere show of Oprah’s 25th and final season! See, 25 had always been a special number to me and only an imaginary friend would know that. I was born on the 25th, baptized on the 25th, and married on the 25th!

God was telling me that my imaginary friend, Oprah, was reality for me and that I had come full circle.

Priscilla Nelson – (Nelson Art)

Oprah came to our home everyday. Sitting down in front of us, she always had something interesting to say, wise words to share, letting us know that she understood. All of a sudden, I was a single parent, raising my daughter, Avalon. Oprah became not just a dear visitor; she gracefully stepped in as a wise co-parent. She always knew how to start those “touchy” conversations and, equally important, she arrived with a panel of experts to answers all those questions that she knew Avalon and I would have.

Avalon just finished her sophomore year of college. She is a wonderful, compassionate human being, and I am so proud to call Avalon my daughter!

I’m sure that Oprah would also be proud.

Epiphany Toi Williams – (Epiphany Rise)

Wow! Where do I begin? How has Ms. Winfrey changed my life? Well, long story short. Ms. Winfrey has helped to shape and develop my life to become an empowered woman, to release the guilt, the shame, and the fear.  She has taught me to be open, forgive, and have compassion for others. To ALLOW people to be who they are. To live my life and OWN it.

Ms. Winfrey has been the only mother figure I ever had, the one who taught me how to be a woman.  When I started watching The Oprah Show, I was literally split into pieces. 25 years later, I am whole. I would often dream of Oprah as the years passed. She would hug me in my dreams and say, “well done,” just like a mother would. These two words speak volumes.

THANK YOU, Ms. Winfrey. Thank you for always being there. For the laughs, tears, the mind provoking thoughts, the insight, the knowledge, the empowerment, the lessons, your guests, the trip of a lifetime, the blessings.

Ms. Winfrey has shown me that DREAMS DO COME TRUE and that I can do anything I want to do. She has been the best mentor and has inspired me to do the same. Since going to Australia and staying on an Island for the first time in my life (and, yes, getting that hug from Oprah!), I fell in love. I am now a newly-published author. I live in St. Thomas US-VI by blue water and white sand.

So, thanks, Ms. Winfrey, for showing me peace and that it was always within my reach. Peace, love, light and continued blessings to you. YOU will be missed but will be forever in my heart. And I will be forever grateful and appreciative. Thank you for my Epiphany, Ms.Winfrey.

Mary Le

I am absolutely grateful that I have had the opportunity to have Oprah in my life for over 15 years. She has been my best teacher. I lost my Aunt, who was like a second mother to me, and I just remember Oprah saying that when you lose someone, you really have an Angel watching over you. That idea has helped me cope tremendously.

I’ve been blessed to have been in Oprah’s presence during the Ultimate Australian Adventure. I’ve implemented every little lesson that I have learned and applied them in everyday life. I now eat a healthy diet, watch my finances and save for the future. I have de-cluttered my house, have my home rise up to greet me when I arrive, and live in the present moment. I’ve also learned that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction — what you put out always comes back to you.

Oprah has taught me there is no such thing as luck; rather, it’s when preparation meets opportunity. She herself is a living example that anything in life is possible.

Keisha C. Kuma – (Sins of Thy Mother)

 In one word, Oprah is light. She is that spirit that reaches out to you in your darkest moments and shows you your way out. She is the ray of sunlight that warms you when you are trembling with pain and fear. She is the soul of your conscious that speaks to your heart and reminds you of your true purpose. For 25 years, she has been the world’s lighthouse, guiding us to shore through the stormy seas.

What I feel is mixed at the ending of her show. I am happy that she is moving on to her next chapter. I am hopeful that all the lessons she has taught over the past 25 years will be remembered. I am scared that one day, somewhere out there, someone will be lost in the dark and not have her light. I am optimistic that, because of the light we have all basked in for 25 years, we will be there for that person who is lost in the dark and, as Oprah has taught us, be that spirit that shows them their way out.

I chose this picture because after losing both my parents, and being diagnosed with MS, Oprah reached out to me in my darkness and I was able to publish my first novel and travel to the other side of the world to begin to heal. In my darkness, I was only looking for a glimmer of sunshine. Oprah showed me that light can be found in the darkness … it’s called the moon.

Joni White

I have been watching Oprah since 1984, when she started on “A.M. Chicago!” I didn’t watch EVERY episode because I was busy raising three children. Once my husband and I moved up in the media technology and bought a VCR, I was then able to tape The Oprah Show and watch her in the evenings, when I had some free time. This usually happened on Friday nights; I would sit in front of the TV in my bedroom, and have a glass of pop or wine and a big bowl of potato chips! I know, not very healthy — the more I learned from Oprah, I knew I needed to change this habit!

One day, I was frustrated and bored walking/running on my treadmill, listening to music and watching the clock. I remember praying to God for wisdom and strength to keep exercising even though I wasn’t too motivated. I ‘heard’ Him say, “Well, you watch Oprah, why don’t you use this tool while you are exercising?” I asked my husband to put a shelf in front of my treadmill, and he installed a small TV with a built-in VCR in our unfinished section of the basement.

So, for about the past ten years, Oprah has motivated me to get up before dawn, two to three times a week (sometimes more!), and walk/jog on my treadmill for 45 minutes (her show without commercials).

Oprah has been my mentor, doctor, therapist, exercise buddy, and friend for so long that I made a video of my “Top Ten Reasons that I am an Oprah Show Ultimate Viewer.” That is how I was selected to accompany her and 301 other Ultimate Viewers to Australia. I have been to about 14 tapings throughout her career, most of those with my “Oprah Buddy,” Cathy Laughery.

I have no idea what I will find to watch now to motivate me to get up so early, as Oprah did. It’s a good thing the weather is finally getting warmer so I can walk/jog outside for a few months and ponder the thought! Hopefully, I can figure out how to tape the DVR onto a VCR tape, and then I can just tape OWN. Can anyone out there help me?!

Elizabeth Toole

As the sun sets on The Oprah Show, I can’t help but reflect upon the last 23 years I have been watching. The lessons learned were many. One in particular was Oprah challenging us to dare to dream. Her telling us that “God could dream a bigger dream for us than we could dream for ourselves” allowed me to believe that anything was possible. I was so inspired that I did dream. From those dreams came the trip of a lifetime to Australia with Oprah and 301 other Ultimate Viewers. I am grateful to have met such amazing people.

One of the other greatest lessons I learned from Oprah was that it really does take a village to raise a child. So, whenever I can, I give back to my community. I am especially involved in literacy for children.

From Chicago to a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada, Oprah has left a lasting impression. She has been a mentor, teacher, therapist and friend. Having had the opportunity to have met her in person, I assure you she is just like everyone’s best friend. So as much as I will miss her in my home everyday, I thank her for sharing her life with us and I look forward to seeing her soar on OWN.

My Night at the United Center for Oprah by Ultimate Viewer Tamika Longino

All week, we’re going to be posting tributes to Oprah from her Ultimate Viewers.

Tamika Longino is the Creator and Executive Editor of Bella Flowers Books, a brand of sustainable children’s picture books developed to bring out the best in young children and their families. Besides experiencing Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure with us, Tamika was given the opportunity to participate in the taping of Oprah’s two big shows at the United Center. In fact, hers was the first story you were supposed to see on the show yesterday, so we’re starting with her!

I have learned from Oprah that everyone has a story. Whether heartbreaking or inspiring or somewhere in between, our lives are built on layers of hard-learned lessons. Growing up amid domestic violence and rampant substance abuse, examples of what not to do were coming at me from all directions.  Then, in 1986, a woman with a funny name, so confident and endearing, took my hand and led me in another direction.  Fast forward 25 years, and I have stretched my boundaries in both experience and circumstance, largely due to Oprah and her show.

Without knowing my name or even being aware of my existence, Oprah unselfishly and consistently gave me her love and wisdom.  She has been my mentor, sister, mother, therapist and friend for a quarter of a century.  Until a short time ago, meeting and sharing the same space with her was only a dream … that is, until I was invited to attend the 25th season premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show and took part in what is now famously known as Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure.

The trip came at a time in my life when I was questioning my purpose.  You see, staying home with my children, while richly rewarding, left me without a true sense of identity outside of potty seats, goldfish and playdates.  My unwelcome demons of being inadequate – the poor kid from a troubled home – came knocking.  But this surprise trip to Australia allowed me to escape in the nick of time.

Just recently, when I thought the universe had moved on, one of the show’s producers contacted me about participating in a surprise for Oprah.  After 25 years of guiding us through the peaks and valleys of life, Oprah would get to the see the fruits of her labor.  So without hesitation, I jumped at the opportunity!  One secret trip to Chicago and a stunning last-minute invitation to the United Center later, I was having my hair and makeup done by the Harpo team of beauty professionals – Oprah’s “village,” as she calls them.

Similar to the Australia trip, this experience connected me with other amazing Oprah Show viewers who had overcome tremendous obstacles – though, at the time, I didn’t quite realize how tremendous.  Being in this moment felt like a dream, from watching Madonna rehearse her lines to being escorted VIP style to my seat in a section that included Tyler Perry, Rita Wilson, Stedman, Gayle, Bob Greene and sometimes Oprah.  Was this really happening?  Yes, my friends, it was indeed!

Tom Hanks opened the show with an anxious Oprah onstage.  He cued the first video, and THERE I WAS – my words, my family, my life.  Then, other stories of featured guests were told, taking my breath away with every triumph over tragedy and life-changing lesson absorbed.  Even a sports arena filled with a barrage of celebrities and thousands of loyal viewers couldn’t fully embody the spirit of absolute love and gratitude that we all hold for a woman who has not only changed the trajectory of my life, but the world at large.

Is there a way to truly say “thank you” for that?  I’m not sure if I can answer that question sufficiently, but what I know for sure is that continuing to live our best lives, believing people when they show us who they are, understanding that all pain is the same, doing better once we know better, and being present and open enough to discover aha moments along the way is definitely a start.

all i really need to know, i learned from oprah

Oprah in AustraliaOprah Winfrey may be one of the biggest celebrities in the world but, as she always admits, the role that is most meaningful to her is that of teacher. For 25 years, The Oprah Show has been her classroom where she’s taught millions of viewers everything from paying attention to that little voice in their head to experiencing the power of “now.” Along the way, she’s also shown us the importance of wearing the right size bra, checking the shape of our poop and approaching every action with intention.

What’s made Oprah such an amazing and effective teacher is that she doesn’t stand there lecturing – instead, she shows us how things work and introduces us to people who have gone through those experiences. And by letting us see her in some of her own vulnerable moments – without makeup, in her pajamas, doing the “ugly cry” — Oprah has given us a safe haven to ask embarrassing questions and share our most personal hopes, worries and secrets.

When I was selected as one of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers last September, I felt like Oprah had just taught me another huge lesson – the Law of Attraction really worked! I had been talking about, dreaming about, praying to somehow get to Oprah for years. She was the inspiration for StyleSubstanceSoul.com, and I wanted her to see that, because of her, we were trying to make a difference in the world. I had put that in writing and sent it out into the universe back in 2007 and then put all of that in writing on the Ultimate Viewer application. The fact that it was now actually coming to fruition – and that Amy, Susan and I were GOING TO AUSTRALIA WITH OPRAH! – took my breath away.

That trip was life-changing and I was surprised, when we got back, at the number of people who asked me what Oprah was like in person, whether she was really the same person they saw on TV. Of course she was. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was exactly who she seemed to be, and many of the lessons she had been teaching us all these years were put into practice and proven over and over again on the trip.

Here are five of them:

Dream big

After a private tour of the Sydney Opera House, we were treated to a surprise and very intimate performance by legendary soprano Penelope Mills and pianist Simon Kenway. Following a once-in-a-lifetime private beach party with Oprah and Gayle – catered by Curtis Stone, no less – we were invited to the sweetest dessert party ever. Each activity in which we participated included a goodie bag.

Any one of these special events – and, trust me, special takes on a whole new meaning here – would have been enough for us. But not for Oprah. She and her producers dream big in a way none of us could ever imagine, and that’s a skill worth practicing because if you can dream it, you can make it happen.

Step outside your comfort zone

For two thirds of the Ultimate Viewers, this trip halfway around the world marked their first time out of the United States. During this trip, people who were afraid of heights climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. People with fears of the water swam in the Great Barrier Reef.

Because we had Oprah as our safety net, it was easier to try things we had never experienced before. I am not a snorkeler – I get nervous trying to breathe underwater – but I’d be damned if I was going to miss the opportunity to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

Putting that mask on and viewing that unparalleled underwater world was something I’ll never forget. I left there with a real sense of pride and accomplishment, as did so many people on that trip. It was transformative to learn that you could do something you had always held yourself back from doing, and I will be forever grateful to Oprah for giving us the chance to learn that firsthand.

Everything’s better when it’s shared

Oprah could have headed Down Under herself but she chose to take 302 people who she knew would appreciate the experience as much as she would. She always says, “Everything’s better when it’s shared,” and she proved that to us on this trip.

I am really not a big group person but this was not just any big group. As Oprah herself said in one of her speeches to us, “Of course it’s a nice group. We didn’t take any assholes on this trip!” Each person was nicer than the next and we would all turn to each other at different times to try to take in the incredible moment together.

Now, almost six months after the trip, we still communicate through a very active Facebook group. I am so thankful for the amazing people in this group because they are the only ones who truly understand the emotions of that trip and the only ones we can share our feelings with, without sounding like we’re boasting in any way. We help each other in whatever ways we can, and we know we are bonded to these people for life.

We’ll be introducing you to some of our fellow Ultimate Viewers over the next week and know you will love and learn from them, too.

Be grateful

Oprah has kept a gratitude journal forever, and she gave us all journals at the beginning of the trip so we could do the same. We could have filled up a dozen of them.

As we traveled around Australia, we were constantly being thanked by the warm, hospitable Aussies for coming so far to visit their country. We genuinely couldn’t understand why they would be thanking us, and we would fall over ourselves trying to explain how grateful we were to them. These encounters often ended with lots of hugging, which, really, could be the answer to world peace.

The most touching display of gratitude, though, was Oprah’s surprise visit to the airport to see us off and thank us for being her Ultimate Viewers. It was such a classy – and unnecessary – thing to do, especially since, once again, we felt that we were the ones who had so much to thank her for. I thought this revealed so much about her as a person.

Anything is possible

This lesson is now indisputable. If you had told me anytime before last September that Amy, Susan and I would be going to Australia with Oprah, I would never have believed you. It was hard enough to believe when we were actually there! And I think all 302 of the Ultimate Viewers would agree.


With Oprah’s final show coming up this week, there’s another lesson that’s also indisputable now: One person can make a difference. Oprah has proven that over and over again.

I mentioned to my husband the other day that no one will ever take Oprah’s place and he said, “No one, but many.” That was a giant “aha” moment for me because I think he’s absolutely right.

Oprah’s influence has been so far-reaching that if every person she’s touched in some way did their own part to make the world a better place, the world really would become a better place.

So, with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, all I can say is, “Thank you, Oprah.”  I will miss you in my house at 4:00 every day — although please know you are always welcome to show up!

I will take to heart the lessons you have taught so well and work hard to do you proud. I know we will meet again – maybe for a StyleSubstanceSoul segment on OWN or back in Australia for an Ultimate Viewer reunion? (Hey, I am mastering that Law of Attraction lesson and have to throw it out there!)

Meanwhile, I am stocking up on tissues to watch the finale on Wednesday because I am going to go full-swing into the ugly cry. This I know for sure.