Oprah Winfrey a surprise guest at OSU graduation | Local

An unannounced VIP added some star power to Oregon State University’s commencement ceremony on Saturday: Oprah Winfrey.

The actress, talk show host and billionaire media mogul watched the ceremony from a box in the loge level at Reser Stadium, posed for a picture with OSU mascot Benny Beaver and made a celebratory video with Letso Maepa, who graduated with honors and earned dual bachelor’s degrees in economics and sociology.

Maepa came to Oregon State in 2013 from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school for disadvantaged young women near Johannesburg, South Africa. Winfrey founded the school after a meeting with South African President Nelson Mandela.

Oregon State’s graduation was one of nine commencement ceremonies around the United States that Winfrey attended this year for her “daughter girls,” as she calls the students at her leadership academy.

“It was a wonderful overture on her part,” said Steve Clark, vice president for marketing and university relations at OSU.

Winfrey’s party, which also included “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, had lunch at Big River Restaurant in downtown Corvallis before leaving town, Clark said.

Even though Winfrey was the highest-profile guest to attend an OSU graduation ceremony since first lady Michelle Obama gave the commencement address in 2012, the celebrity’s presence was not announced during the event in keeping with her wish to maintain a low profile.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

That changed quickly, however, when pictures taken on the Corvallis campus began popping up on Winfrey’s Instagram account.

A still photo of the superstar posing with Benny Beaver garnered more than 72,000 “likes” on the social media platform, while a short video clip that captured a cap-and-gowned Maepa showing off her twin sheepskins as she and Winfrey chant “Double diploma! Double diploma!” got more than half a million views.

“Oprah came quietly — at least that was her intent — to celebrate a student who had been part of her academy,” Clark said. “(But) she certainly added a lot of national attention and local attention to commencement.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

Leave a Reply