For her millions of fans, Oprah has been a guiding force over the years, an everyday guru offering advice on everything from the best sports bra to vegan cleanses to spiritual enlightenment. With the last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show airing Wednesday, many commentators are reflecting on just what Oprah taught us over her show's 25 years.
1. She taught us to find our own path: Though the show often seemed to encourage a mentality in which Oprah's devoted flock was willing to follow her anywhere, Oprah's real "message has always been to fearlessly tread your own course," says Robyn Okrant, author of Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk, in The Washington Post. While I know many of her fans are in a panic over how they'll live their "best life" without their daily dose of Oprah inspiration, they shouldn't be. "If Oprah's done her job properly, and if we've been good students, we should no longer need her advice."
"Our best lives, without Oprah"
2. She taught us to work hard... and be polite: When Oprah ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994, after training for 19 months and losing 83 pounds, says Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune, she "helped inspire me to finish the marathon" myself. But she also taught me something when she never responded to my multiple requests for a quick interview. Because of that, "she inspires me to this day to try to respond with at least a few original words to students who email me for a contribution to a paper they're writing for school, or to unemployed journalism grads looking for pointers."
"Endurance: The lessons Oprah taught me"
3. She taught us to be skeptical: "I can't claim to have learned a lot from the things Oprah tried to teach me on purpose," but I have learned from some of her mistakes, says Linda Holmes at NPR. Oprah's eager embrace of The Secret and its philosophical nonsense, and her hyping of Suzanne Somers' strange hormone therapy, taught me that "no matter... how rah-rah you want to be about the things you advocate for, once people are listening to you, you must know how to be a skeptic, or at least to be intellectually curious."
"Five things I really did learn from Oprah Winfrey, no kidding"
4. She taught us that we can break stereotypes: Sure, Oprah isn't "an agitator in any obvious sense," says George McEncroe in The Sydney Morning Herald. She's more likely to chat with celebs than extoll the virtues of universal health care. "But in her own way, I think, she has led a revolution." There's an unstated rule that women on television need to be thin, white, young, and beautiful, and Oprah's incredible success has shown us that that rule can be broken.
"In her way, Oprah led a revolution"
5. She taught us to read, again: "For some, a book club means Chardonnay, gossip, and some bookish conversation," says Carolyn Kellogg in the Los Angeles Times. "For Oprah Winfrey, it's meant making bestsellers," and creating big controversies (see: James Frey, Jonathan Franzen). Oprah's Book Club has helped sell millions of books, and turned literary figures like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou into household names once again. "It's been a wonderful enhancement to publishing fiction," says Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
"Oprah's Book Club: She spoke, we read"