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St. Andrew School teacher interviews Oprah Winfrey

By Staff | Apr 14, 2010

When local teacher Michelle Hankey finished a personal interview with television personality Oprah Winfrey, the hardest part was waiting over a month to talk about it.
Hankey, a middle school math and science teacher at St. Andrew Catholic School, was one of 10 national winners in a contest designed for the 10th anniversary of Winfrey’s publication, “O, The Oprah Magazine.”
But, she couldn’t say a word about her experience until the magazine hit the shelves this week.
“I told people I couldn’t talk about it,” she said. “It was hard.”
It all started in December when Hankey finished teaching and decided to surf the Web for news or entertainment when she came upon the “O, The Oprah Magazine.” contest, asking fans to submit a 500-word essay on what they would ask Winfrey if given the opportunity. For fun she wrote an essay and submitted it to the Web site, not believing that she’d every hear anything back.
The magazine subsequently received over 2,000 essays and named Hankey one of 20 finalists. Finalists and their essays were posted online and the public voted on which was their favorite.
Hankey immediately called her family in Australia asking them to vote for her and word spread from students, parents and community members that Cape Coral needed to mobilize and vote for her on the Web site.
“Because it was based on voting, it was a community effort,” said Hankey. “It became: Let’s vote for this lady because she is from Cape Coral.”
A month after her essay was posted for a vote, a representative from “O, The Oprah Magazine.” called and asked her to make travel arrangements on Feb. 11 because she was chosen as one of the 10 winners. Each flew up to Chicago in one of the coldest times of the year, yet they received a warm reception.
“Each one of us was met by private chauffeur and driver. We were really pampered and treated like celebrities,” she said.
The winners watched a taping of Winfrey’s show and sat through a three-hour hair, make-up and photograph session with professionals on the show’s staff before the interview. They entered Winfrey’s office, which Hankey said was larger than any classroom at St. Andrew’s, with couches and a wall holding the numerous awards won by the show.
“Oprah sat there for 2 1/2 hours with us, it was like a casual conversation,” she said. “She was so normal and an approachable person. It wasn’t an inconvenience, it was like she had nothing better to do.”
Hankey asked Winfrey why she chose a school in South Africa to benefit from her efforts rather than one in the Chicago area or some other high-need city in the United States. This wasn’t the original question that Hankey wrote in her essay to the magazine, yet being a educator she was curious to hear the answer.
Oprah always dreamed of being a teacher, she said, and chose South Africa because children in the United States complain about being forced to go to school each day, but those in South Africa struggle for that rare opportunity just to sit in a classroom.
“She said she values education and by helping children in a school setting you can help them for the rest of their lives,” said Hankey.
Hankey brought a copy of the magazine this week to show her students and they asked questions about her experience. This is her third year as a teacher at St. Andrew’s.
Each of the winners is featured in the 10th Anniversary Cover Shoot and their wardrobe was later sent to them as a gift, a souvenir of when they were treated like celebrities for a day.
“By next week it will all be over, but I’ll have the memories,” said Hankey.