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Oprah and Denzel Reveal Who Inspired Them

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As Oprah Winfrey tours this holiday season with Barack Obama, she remembers a teacher as one of her biggest inspirations as a girl.

“My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Benton, was the first person that I really could see believed in me,” Winfrey, 53, tells Parade magazine in its Sunday issue. “She would tell me that I was just the smartest little girl she’d ever seen.”

Winfrey explains, “I felt shiny in her eyes. It’s why, whenever I see a little girl, I always stop to try and acknowledge her. I always try to have a shiny moment.”

The talk show mogul produces The Great Debaters, starring and directed by Denzel Washington, who also posed in a photo shoot with the talk-show queen.

As for his take on mentors, “The thing is that you don’t know who you influence,” Washington, 52, says. “I had a young counselor at the Boys [and Girls] Club who told me, ‘You know, with all your smarts, you can do anything you want to do in life.’ And I can remember like it was yesterday, walking out of the club, putting my shirt on, going, ‘I can do anything.’ ”

(Parade also has announced it’s teaming with The Case Foundation to give $500,000 to charities in America’s Giving Challenge. More info is at Parade.com/givingchallenge.)