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Recent WMU grad named Oprah's favorite guest

by Cheryl Roland

May 20, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Dr. Tererai Trent at WMU commencement ceremony.
Trent earned a doctoral degree in interdisciplinary evaluation from WMU
KALAMAZOO--America's most celebrated talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, now in her final week of shows, identified a 2009 Western Michigan University alumna as her "all time favorite guest" during a moving May 20 episode of the "Oprah Show" that reprised the story of "the woman who buried her dreams."

Tererai Trent--Dr. Tererai Trent--is from Zimbabwe. She started her adult life as an impoverished cattle-herder who defied a culture that places little value on the contributions of women. She educated herself, setting a path and an example for her own five children and for other women in similar circumstances. Trent's story, which includes earning a doctoral degree from WMU, was retold on Winfrey's highly anticipated episode in which the host identified her favorite guest among those she has interviewed in 25 years of broadcasts.

In a preview video unveiled on the "Oprah Show" website early May 20, Winfrey urged viewers to tune in and watch as she revealed the guest whose story "epitomizes everything I've been trying to say on this show for 25 years."

An October 2009 episode of "Oprah" placed Trent on the national stage, where she became known as the woman who "buried her dreams." Trent's story was first chronicled on the pages of the New York Times, and in a book, "Half the Sky," by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Both the book and the "Oprah" show detailed how Trent developed a list of goals for herself as a very young woman living in a rural village. Her list was buried in a piece of tin behind her home in a field where she herded cattle. Over the next 20 years, she accomplished each goal. She traveled to America and earned bachelor's and master's degrees. When she returned to Zimbabwe, she would dig the list up, cross off the achieved goal and move on to the next one.

Two months after her appearance on the "Oprah Show," Trent graduated from WMU, completing her journey from life as an impoverished African child bride to a career as an international scholar who holds a Ph.D. and has extensive expertise on the evaluation of AIDS-prevention efforts.

When she crossed the Miller Auditorium stage Dec. 17, 2009, to receive her degree in interdisciplinary evaluation, Trent carried the small tin in which she had buried her list of goals along with the list itself. Following the ceremony, she asked WMU President John M. Dunn to add his signature to the 20-year-old document.

Trent has been fulfilling a two-year commitment to work for Heifer International, which paid for her doctoral studies. Heifer International is a global nonprofit focused on lifting people out of poverty and hunger to self-reliance. Trent plans to return to her nation in the future. Her dreams of building a school there will become a reality, thanks to a $1.5 million donation Winfrey announced during the show, as well as a collaboration with Save the Children that will impact 4,000 children in Zimbabwe.

Visit Oprah Winfrey online to watch the episode.