Oprah's South Africa Academy Celebrates First Graduating Class

Seventy-two students will go on to universities in South Africa and the United States.

Posted: 01/18/2012 07:15 PM EST

Oprah Winfrey's South African school ushered through its first class of graduates this past weekend. Of the 75 students who enrolled into the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in 2007, 72 have finished their studies and will go on to pursue a college education in South African and American universities.

"We're taking a victory lap here, for transformation," Winfrey said. "Every single girl is going to leave here with something greater to offer the world than her body."

Winfrey also said her goal was "just to change one girl, affect one person's life," but acknowledged that it's "not a sustainable model for most people in most countries." Winfrey spent $40 million on the elite institution, which initially raised criticisms about why her students needed such a lavish environment to learn.

A new class arrives at the academy this week, but she wants to extend her help through Africa by working with established organizations to identify schools in the developing world that could use monetary aid. In turn, she hopes to create a support network and incorporate practices from her own school.


"It takes a lot of support, it takes a whole team," she said, saying teachers and communities would have to get involved.


One focus that would remain the same is her idea of empowering girls to promote change within a community as she believes that women give back so much to their environments.

"I know what it's like to be a poor girl with your heart's desire to do well in the world," she added. "I chose to use my philanthropy to do what I know."



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