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Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg speaks with the upperclass girls at Lacordaire Academy , as the opening speaker in this year’s “Women That Inspire” series. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

She never went to high school.

She had dyslexia, and was told she was stupid.

People told her to give up.

She never gave up.

That was the message film, theater and TV star Whoopi Goldberg delivered to students at Lacordaire Academy last Thursday, March 5. She spoke as part of the “The Empower Series: Women Who Inspire,” which Lacordaire began a year ago, for girls in grades 8 to 12.

Previous visitors have included, among others, Karen Chambers, vice president of Iman Cosmetics; Carole Hopson, a 737 pilot for United Airlines, and Peggy Cafferty, a filmmaker. The school is celebrating its Centennial.

“This is your time to make stuff happen,” Goldberg told the girls. “The side is not made for you. The front is made for you.”

The school does not have an auditorium, so folding chairs were set up in the gym. Students were just a few feet away from the Grammy, Tony, and Academy-award winner of “The View” and “The Color Purple.”

The awards do not matter on a daily basis, Goldberg, 64, said: “I’m Whoopi.” 

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Goldberg talked about her childhood and her life. She was put in a slower class because of her dyslexia, and told she was not trying, she said. 

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“Take a moment to figure out what you’re hearing,” she told the girls. “You can’t feel anything in a Tweet. You’ve got to be more mindful. What’s the new one?”

“Tik Tok,” the students called out.

“That’s too much for me,” Goldberg said with a laugh. She said she learned how to hear people, and that “you need to look at me when I’m talking. You’ve got to see me, feel me. ‘Do you feel me?’ That’s a real question.”

She told the girls that they should be true to themselves, even if some friends did not understand, telling a story about a childhood friend who would not go to the movies with her because of how she looked — too disheveled.

Pointing to her blonde dreadlocks, she described her hair as “low-rent Beyoncé or Mary J. Blige.” 

Her mother advised her not to change, but to talk about it with her friend. Goldberg and the other girl remained friends.

Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg speaks with the upperclass girls at Lacordaire Academy . ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCALl

DON’T FORGET WHO YOU ARE

She told the girls about being “discovered, but it was slow,” after writing her own monologues, being seen by Mike Nichols, and, coincidentally, by author Alice Walker. Walker got her an audition with “The Color Purple” director Steven Spielberg.

She performed monologues for Spielberg and a select audience, including Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. She did so well she needed an encore: and all she had was her satire of “E.T.” She did not want to offend Spielberg, but performed it anyway.

In it, an extraterrestrial “goes native” in the projects. When his family comes to get him, he takes an AK-47 and wipes them out.

“It’s a reminder never to forget who you are,” she said. “He got so caught up in being who he turned into that he didn’t recognize his people when they came to get him.”

Spielberg hugged her and said “Maybe we should have shot that.” And that’s how she got the part, she said. 

Asked how she can get along with people whose opinions are so different from hers, she says she thinks “How can you like her? ‘She’s great, she can cook.’ You can have fierce conversations with people and still be friends.”

There’s a lot of stuff that goes into people that make them who they are, she said. 

“People ask me, ‘how can you sit with that person?’ and I say, ‘how can you not?’ If you don’t know what somebody’s thinking, how are you going to have a conversation with them?”

To stay motivated, she thinks of all the people who have told her “you’ll never do that.” 

“Nobody can tell me what I can and can’t do,” she said. “Nobody can tell you.”

CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE

One girl pointed to her friend and said it was her friend’s birthday, but she wouldn’t let anybody say happy birthday — so would she?

Goldberg not only said it, she sang it, and danced over, snapping.

“You’re a good friend,” she told the girl.

After she spoke, Goldberg took a picture with all the girls.

Twelfth-graders Gina Miller and Isabel Cruz said they were inspired by Goldberg’s talk.

“No matter what career you want to be in, there will be struggles. But no matter those struggles, there’s a path for you no matter where you go,” Goldberg said.

Chambers of Iman Cosmetics has inspired her, because she wants to be involved in the business side of cosmetics too.

Cruz said she is a strong feminist, who works with feminist groups and outreach. 

“This has solidified my views. And showed me the great range of what I can be. I don’t have to be one thing or the other,” said Cruz, who wants to be a performer, a writer, and in casting too. Along with Goldberg, Peggy Cafferty, a director and producer, has inspired her.

“I personally feel that Whoopi showed me that no matter how hard you’ve been told no, it should never stop you. It should make you work harder to do what you want to do,” Miller said.

Cruz agreed, adding, “Whoopi said that she wrote her own material, that she created her space in the world. She didn’t wait for somebody to give it to her.”

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