I Interned at 'O,' The Oprah Magazine, Met Oprah Winfrey & Emerged a Changed Person

It requires halting among the rushing commuters and directing my gaze up, and up, craning my neck on the corner of 57th and 8th to take in the beauty and the scale of the building which I would call a temporary working home. Hearst Tower shines against even the lackluster backdrop of a post-Nor’easter Manhattan, and its interior reveals my position as a starry-eyed intern. Stark white walls and high ceilings emphasize the water which glides against the angled wall encasing the two-story escalators. I am intimidated.

Marveling at the unique and thoroughly modern architecture lasts only moments as glances from seasoned employees jolt me back to reality. Checking myself in with security and obtaining my trusty Hearst ID card, I brace myself for day one on the job. Once up the elevator, my already crowded mind registers that the office at O bears much resemblance to the building which contains it; simplicity rules as white walls are interrupted only by inspirational posters, past magazine covers, and a (non-ironic) cardboard cutout of Beyoncé.

The supervisor I met during my interview maintains her kindness and optimism—she is the best!—as she leads me through the office, pointing out specific doorways and people of importance. My head barely wraps itself around all of the information, and I find myself asking questions even weeks into my three-month internship. I have found that questions are my best weapon against the often tedious and confusing tasks faced by myself and my fellow Style Department interns. As the weeks progress, I pose question after question, some directly relating to the work at hand, and others concerning my supervisor’s position and the magazine as a whole: Where did you work before O? Why is this brand chosen over that one? Who is the target reader? With questions, I collect answers, and with answers I build a knowledge base and gain a clearer picture of the industry and the office in which I work.

Initially, I follow all the rules to a T. I should clarify; even as my internship comes to a close, I still complete the tasks asked of me and avoid wrongdoing (my lips are sealed when it comes to future issues!), but I have learned to branch out beyond what is specifically defined for interns. As I have become more comfortable with verbal and electronic communication, I have found myself able to pursue opportunities not blatantly presented to me. For example, when someone in the office was looking for contributors for an upcoming project, I reached out to her hoping to attend the meeting and take part in this venture. To my surprise, she accepted my (carefully worded) pleas, and days later I found myself sitting among full-time employees, the only intern present from my department, playing a role in the future direction of O.

Speaking of O, by far the most memorable day on the job came when the magazine’s founder and namesake graced the halls of Hearst Tower to personally select contenders for this year’s Favorite Things. Immediately upon arrival to our humble office, none other than Oprah Winfrey herself called out a hearty hello to everyone working, including us interns. Shocked to stand mere feet from someone so charitable, successful and—let’s face it—iconic, we let out a nervous greeting and stared in awe as she went to get herself settled. While I unfortunately cannot share any details about what Oprah did or said, I can confidently say that all of the hype surrounding her is completely justified. Sitting in on her meeting with the creative minds behind O, I found myself floored by her humble nature and ability to relate to the working class woman. Despite her success, she thinks and acts like a member of the American public, combing through products with the discerning eye of a woman searching for the best quality at the most affordable price.

Again sparing details (sorry!), Oprah spoke to us interns without a hint of condescension or disinterest. Never had I imagined that a woman of her fame and success would find insight in what any of us had to say. Nevertheless, she listened to our opinions on certain products and took them into consideration when making her decisions. Once the meeting had concluded, I began to return to my intern cubicle, far too nervous to ask for a photo. Instead, Oprah shocked us all by suggesting that she pose with the interns to celebrate all of our hard work. Can you see why this woman is a legend?

I have learned that publishing is a fast-paced and ever-changing world, marked by long nights in the office and many, many product samples. Memorable moments have included attending a Fancy Foods trade show, sampling everything sweet, savory, and tasty from vendors around the world as well as laughing with the other interns in the style closet as we wield our box cutters like we’re Charlie’s Angels. This summer has been trying, challenging, inspiring and unforgettable. As an intern, day-to-day tasks can feel mundane, and admittedly they often are, though the real learning and growth occurs in the resulting immersion in the industry and the office environment. I make copies, open boxes and microwave my lunch next to the editor-in-chief, creative director, and others who carry the future of an industry in their hands. Through proximity alone, I have come to know their leadership style, creative vision and passion for print media. In issues September to December, my name shares a page with theirs on the masthead (seriously, look out for it!), marking three months of personal and professional soul-searching, existing in my own humble microcosm of a vibrant publishing community.