April 1, 2012

C.U. Model U.N. Greets Surprise Dignitary: Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey plays many roles — talk show host, celebrity, producer, philanthropist, actress — but she took on a new one this weekend: that of an observer of the 2012 Cornell Model United Nations Conference.Winfrey came to Cornell on Saturday to support students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school Winfrey founded in South Africa, who were participating in CMUNC events, according to Madeline Briker ’12, CMUNC’s director of public relations.“We didn’t find out [Winfrey] was coming until about 30 minutes beforehand,” said Briker. “So that was interesting.”High school students gathered at the conference to discuss and debate different countries’ perspectives on topics of international concern such as nuclear weapons, human rights and terrorism, according to Meril Pothen ’13, CMUNC Director General.The surprise visit caused conference organizers to make many last-minute changes, according to Richard Kang ’13, CMUNC’s  secretary general.“We had to change many of our logistics around accommodating her. We had to consider crowd control and training the staff members to act accordingly,” Kang said. “Also, calming the students down was a big thing. We have 600 high school students here, and they were really excited to see the super, super celebrity.”Cornell has hosted the conference annually for the past 10 years, and organizers have been planning this year’s since last year. According to Kang, students attending the conference — which began on Thursday and ended Sunday — came from all over the U.S. and from several other countries, including Mexico, South Africa and India.Winfrey arrived on Saturday and stayed at the conference for about four hours, according to Kang. The celebrity guest attended several committee discussions, though she largely sat in the back and “let the delegates debate,” according to Briker.“We tried to keep it so people wouldn’t notice she was in the room, which was difficult sometimes, because she’s Oprah,” Briker said.Kang said that he was appreciative for the opportunity to meet Winfrey.“She was very calm and didnt really expose her true charisma to the audience and public,” Kang said. “But when [Pothen] and I talked to her in person, she did really generate that Oprah persona, and I thought that was very cool.”Pothen said she was impressed by the conference participants’ professionalism and focus on their performance.“In one room [Winfrey] went to, students were a little shell-shocked, but she sat there for at least half an hour and nobody went up to her and tried to talk to her,” Pothen said. “They were immersed in the debate.”News spread quickly through social networks online that Winfrey was at Cornell.“Once she stepped into the first committee room, all the students started tweeting and facebooking and texting friends about Oprah’s presence at the conference,” Kang said.Kang described Winfrey’s visit as a “curveball,” but said that overall, the conference ran smoothly.“A lot of students tried to get a glimpse of her, but we tried our best to redirect the traffic,” Kang said. “Despite the craziness, I think everything went well.”Pothen said that Oprah’s presence did not overshadow the true purpose of the conference: for students to engage in high-caliber debate. But the celebrity guest affirmed the importance of an event organizers spent nearly a year planning for, she said.“This visit showed Oprah’s investment and interest in Model U.N., something we’re so personally invested in,” Pothen said. “It’s something we think really generates a knowledgeable and invested future generation of leaders. Her seeing [Model] U.N. in the way we have always seen it was really amazing.”

Original Author: Emma Court