Over 20 years ago the now 64-year-old invested $40 million of her own money along with her time and energy establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. ESSENCE reports that the school recently recognized its seventh graduating class that included 58 young women. The graduation ceremony took place on December 1 with filmmaker Tyler Perry delivering the commencement address.
Perry spoke about Winfrey’s mission to develop and support leaders and change makers:
“Before the ceremony this morning, I spoke to Ms. Winfrey and asked her how she chose the girls.”
“She said she looks for something special, something that sparkles and is unique. Today that is all I saw.”
“I saw all the hope, brilliance and intelligence. Being the chosen one is special and wonderful. It gives you the opportunity to strive and go higher and do things that you would have not had the chance to do.”
Several students were recognized for their exceptional achievements including Nicolle Naidoo who received the award for Top Academic Achiever of 2018. Lethukukhanya Mbambo was the winner of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Award, an honor bestowed, “to a student that epitomises leadership, caring, and generosity of spirit.”
Khensani Hlaise, the academy’s 2018 Class Representative shared that the school truly makes the difference in the lives the young women picture for themselves:
“It is such an honor and privilege to exist in a space where you can become more than you were yesterday.”
“For my sisters and I, this journey has been of becoming more of ourselves, it has been about uncovering and discovering, a journey of shedding our fears and becoming who we truly have always been. We are all here because of a dream that Mum O had.”
The academy is a result of a promise Winfrey made to former president Nelson Mandela in 2002. Winfrey also teaches a class at the school via satellite. The school which was built over 22 acres features state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories, a library, theatre, and a beauty salon and was once criticized for being elitist, to which Winfrey replied:
“If you are surrounded by beautiful things and wonderful teachers who inspire you, that beauty brings out the beauty in you.”
Congratulations to the class of 2018 and we look forward to seeing generations of leaders in many classes to come.