It ended Wednesday. No, we’re not talking about another end-of-world scenario. But for some, it might as well have been. Others, including Professor Heather Harris of Stevenson University, were there as witnesses.
It was the final episode of the syndicated The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the event had special meaning in Maryland, where Winfrey once had a morning talk show, on WJZ-TV in Baltimore.
Harris, an associate professor, was one of thousands to attend a sold-out farewell party in Chicago that featured a bevy of star-studded appearances.
“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Harris said.
The party, peppered with appearances from stars like Will Smith, Beyonce, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Jordan and Tom Hanks, marked Winfrey’s 25 years as host of her daily talk show.
When Harris’ friend offered her an extra ticket to the farewell party last week, Harris said she jumped at the chance.
The excitement began building before people even walked through the doors of the United Center, she said.
“By the time Oprah came out, people were just losing their minds,” Harris said.
While Harris said she enjoyed seeing all of the celebrity guests, the ones whose stories touched her the most were the more than 100 men from Morehouse College in Atlanta who received scholarship money from Winfrey. In all, 415 Morehouse men benefited.
“I really admire what she’s done and how she’s contributed to the world,” Harris said.
As does said Jim Jurzak, manager of the Barnes & Noble book store in Ellicott City. In his lifetime, Jurzak said he cannot think of anyone else with as much power and positive influence as Winfrey.
“[The show] changed a lot of lives of a lot of people in a positive way,” he said.
Jurzak cited Winfrey’s book club as an example. Launched in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club included more than 65 selections, ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to lesser-known works. The show estimates the club helped sell 30 million books.
“Whenever Oprah Winfrey suggested a book, the book usually shot up into the top 10,” Jurzak said.
Customers would visit the store, asking specifically for the latest Oprah-recommended book, he said.
“She also revived some of the classics,” he said. “I can’t imagine it’s not going to keep going in some form."
In addition to the book club, Winfrey’s show has launched numerous programs aimed at helping the disadvantaged worldwide. In the process, she became one of the most recognized and powerful women in the world.
“Oprah ushered in a model for a new sort of female power broker,” said Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. “She was strong and emotional, whole in a way that women had been reluctant to be in the workplace.”
Some of Winfrey’s programs and initiatives will continue on her new network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which debuted in January. The network is designed to “entertain, inform and inspire people to live their best lives,” Winfrey’s website states.
But at the moment, there does not seem to be another celebrity who can “hold court” or capture the “collective imagination” the way Winfrey did, Parks said.
“The television audience is moving to cable, and the media landscape has become more scattered, less coherent,” she said. “Her leaving makes it more so.”
Now that the show is done, it’s up to others to continue Winfrey’s work, Harris said.
“If her legacy is anything, it should be the courage to create good in our lives and in the lives of others,” Harris said.