January 14, 2012

Oprah Winfrey to Celebrate First Graduation of Her South African Academy for Girls (7 PHOTOS)

Speaking of the reported 72 students that will be graduating on January 14, Oprah proudly says, 'They have taken this moment, this opportunity, and seized it in a way that I could only dream of.'

Oprah Winfrey has a reason to be in a celebratory mood early in the new year. On Saturday, January 14, the former daytime talk show queen will witness the graduation of the first class at her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and she shared her thought on the matter to ABC's Diane Sawyer on "World News".

Having spent $40 million to build the school for disadvantaged girls and dealt with its fair share of trials and tribulations, the 57-year-old admitted, "I've learned so much." She elaborated, "I would do it differently but the fact that we are here is a triumph. This has been a journey of 8,000 miles. Tomorrow, for me, is about celebrating the journey this has been." 

Winfrey also praised the 72 young women who will be graduating on Saturday. "I've just never seen a more resilient or brilliant group of girls," she gushed. "I mean they have a heart of brilliance. They're just so open and gracious...I'm such a proud mother. They have taken this moment, this opportunity, and seized it in a way that I could only dream of." 

During the interview airing at 6:30 ET Friday, January 13, the TV personality added, "I will be celebrating that [at Saturday's graduation]. I will be trying to take that all in and looking into the eyes of their parents who will for sure know that this poverty cycle, that the cycle of poverty, has been broken with their daughters." 

Winfrey opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls on 52 acres in the small town of Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg, South Africa in January 2007. 152 of the country's brightest young girls were selected from nearly 3,000 applicants to attend the boarding school, which took six years to build. 10% of the 71 graduates are bound for a U.S. university. 

The school faced early setbacks in November 2007 when a school matron was accused of sexual and physical abuse. Winfrey personally flew to South Africa to apologize to the students and parents for the incident. In 2009, seven students were suspended for "inappropriate behaviors" and sexual misconduct. 

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