Oprah Has Left the Building, but Glow Lives On
LOWELL -- For the past two months, UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney had been preparing for Oprah.
As if that wasn’t enough pressure, Moloney was readying herself to interview Winfrey on the Tsongas Center stage in front of thousands of exhilarated people. Moloney said she naturally received tons of advice on just what to ask Winfrey in the 90 minutes they had to spare during the Chancellor’s Speaker Series Thursday night.
“I spent a lot of time and soul searching thinking about which questions to ask. I had my cards and I had the interview memorized in my mind, where I wanted to take it, the sequence of questions I was going to ask her. But well, no, none of that happened,” Moloney said with a laugh.
The very structured interview Moloney had envisioned for months did not come to be, but the experience was still a magical one for her. Not many people can say they had the opportunity to interview Oprah.
“It was so exciting to walk on stage to be there sitting across from her,” she said. “I had to keep pinching myself and say, ‘Really? Is this happening?’”
Like millions of people, Moloney is a long-time fan of Winfrey and her work. She has watched her show, read her books and listened to her meditation tapes. But sitting across from Winfrey was inspiring in a whole new way. There were many messages Moloney took away from Winfrey, but one was her urging audience members to ask themselves “What do I want?”
“I was talking to her backstage and I shared with her a story about this past summer when I finished a third year being chancellor,” Moloney said, “and I was taking stock about why am I continuing in this role and is this really what I want to do?
“So she reminded me to check in on doing what’s right for me and right for my community,” she continued.
During the event Winfrey said after she built a school in South Africa for girls, she told Maya Angelou this would be her legacy. But Angelou disagreed, saying your legacy is every life you touch.
“Your purpose is everything you’ve been doing and it’s the thread that connects the dots of everything that you’ve been doing,” Winfrey said. “So, your purpose isn’t some big gargantuan thing that you suddenly discover. Your purpose is who you’ve been all along.”
As a university chancellor, Moloney said she touches many lives. She said Winfrey’s words were another reminder to be good and genuine in her role.
UMass Lowell’s goal was to raise $1 million for student scholarships, but ended up topping that by raising more than $1.5 million. And to Moloney’s complete surprise, at the very end of Winfrey’s appearance, she announced she would match that $1.5 million.
If she had been prepared for that news, Moloney said she may have said, “That’s way better than a car.” But in the moment, Moloney was speechless and said it took much strength just to remain standing.
“She’ll be touching a lot of lives for generations to come with these scholarships that will be endowed in her name,” Moloney said. “It isn’t just the money, it’s that Oprah Winfrey believes in you. That’s what she’s telling those student recipients. It’s quite a humanitarian message to the students.”
This far surpasses any fundraising event in the history of the university, Moloney said.
“I really believe she left Lowell a better place,” she said. “There were 6,000 people who left there (Thursday) night charged up, ready to go do good things and to do the right thing because of her.”
Aside from all the motivational words Winfrey had to share, she took time to give a number of compliments on Moloney’s silver, sparkling heels. Moloney said she stepped outside her comfort zone to wear those shoes after getting encouragement from her niece and granddaughter.
“Now the question is, ‘What to do with the shoes?’” Moloney said.
She has gotten suggestions to auction them off or place them on a pedestal. But Moloney said the city will just have to wait and see what becomes of them.
Thursday night was a historic moment for Lowell in many ways, and still, it doesn’t quite seem real for Moloney.
“I’m still stunned,” she said. “I still wonder if I’ve really woken up from a beautiful dream that I’m in.”
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.