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Oct 01, 2014 05:32 AM EDT

Prominent television talk show host Oprah Winfrey was one of the eight celebrities honored at Harvard University Tuesday, for her outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the African American culture.

The university's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research also conferred its annual W.E.B. Du Bois Medals on British architect David Adjaye, performer-activist Harry Belafonte, civil rights hero U.S. Rep John Lewis, D-Ga., "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen, "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes, and movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The medal, awarded since 2000, represents the highest honor in the field of African and African American Studies at Harvard.

"Seven of this year's recipients embody excellence in the arts, and there's a reason we're focused on the arts," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, in a statement.

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Winfrey, producer and philanthropist, also accepted a posthumous award for author and poet Maya Angelou. One of her fondest memories of her mentor Angelo, who died early this year, was sitting at the poet's kitchen table eating biscuits and listening to her read and recite.

"I'm so proud she called me her daughter-sister-friend," Winfrey said, Boston Globe reports.

Rhimes, creator of hit shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," said that she was humbled to share the stage with the likes of Lewis, Belafonte, and "Queen Winfrey". She also expressed her gratitude to ABC network for devoting three hours of primetime to her shows on Thursday.

"I wish it wasn't so remarkable that I thought television should look like the rest of the world," said Rhimes.

Meanwhile, the British-born McQueen promised to make movies that trigger debate on pressing issues. "The film doesn't begin until the people are leaving the theater," McQueen said. "My commitment as an artist is to not let the dust settle."

Since childhood, Rep. John Lewis - a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders - challenged white authority despite his parents' warnings to just accept it. "I got in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble," Lewis said.

The other honorees were novelist Jamaica Kincaid, Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard Graduate School of Design Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, and American Repertory Theater's artistic director Diane Paulus.


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