HENLEY ON KLIP, South Africa – Oprah Winfrey is more widely recognized than many world leaders. For nearly three decades America watched her wildly popular talk show with topics of discussion that were often controversial or sensational. By the end of its run, The Oprah Winfrey Show had received more than 40 Daytime Emmys.
A self-made entrepreneur from humble beginnings, Forbes magazine named Oprah the world’s only African American billionaire for three years running. In addition to her financial success, Business Week has named her the greatest Black philanthropist in American history. Her Angel Network has raised more than $51 million for multiple charitable programs, including girls’ education in South Africa. But Oprah’s work did not stop there.
“I want to create a school for smart girls who will lead this country into glory.”
While visiting Nelson Mandela in December 2000, Oprah pledged to build a world-class school for gifted, young females. Two years later, on December 6, 2002, Mr. Mandela and the Minister of Education joined Oprah as she broke ground on the site of the academy. Five years later, the academy opened with 152 seventh and eighth grade girls who were interviewed by Oprah and accepted, tuition-free. The new state-of-the-art 28 building campus included a theater, library, wellness center, dining hall, classrooms, and dormitories. Each year the academy grew by one grade until it reached full capacity in 2011, with an estimated 380 students in grades 7 through 12.
“When you change a girl’s life, it’s not just that life. You start to affect a family, a community, a nation.”
The academy’s curriculum involves not only basic academics but also cultivating human qualities and values. Asked to describe her educational philosophy in an interview with The Huffington Post, Oprah replied, “The idea that you are a whole citizen of the world and that this education is to help you gather the pieces to allow you to see the fullness of that.”
The academy ultimately seeks to provide a nurturing educational environment for academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. By virtue of their unique educational opportunity, the academy hopes to see the development of a new generation of dynamic young women who will lead the transformation of their communities and country.
“I want every girl to leave here knowing who she is.”
Oprah’s most ambitious dream was fulfilled in January when the academy graduated its first senior class. The students’ hard work paid off with all 72 graduates earning full scholarships to colleges and universities around the world. At this rate of success, the academy is on track to achieve its mission.