Friday, February 3, 2012


Saturday 14 January 2012, Henley-on-Klip, South Africa — Television icon and business leader Oprah Winfrey celebrated the first graduating class of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa today. One hundred percent of the graduates have been accepted to college or university, including top schools in the United States and South Africa. More than a dozen have received full scholarships.

Winfrey arrived in South Africa earlier this week for the graduation ceremony at the school in Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg, to create what she described as a “final lasting moment” for the 72 girls who achieved a 100% pass rate in last year’s Senior National Certificate examinations and produced 188 matriculation distinctions between them.

“The pride that I feel today is overpowering,” Winfrey told her guests, who included the students, their parents and relatives. “I have been on a mission my whole life to be able to give back what I have been given. Today I am fulfilling that mission. This class will prove that when you invest in the leadership of girls, you invest in a nation.”

Winfrey also used the opportunity to thank Nelson Mandela, who served as an inspiration in establishing the academy. “I want to thank Nelson Mandela for his leadership and support to help make this school a reality. Although he is not present with us today, I know he shares with us the same sense of pride and accomplishment,” said Winfrey.

Winfrey concluded by noting how she has been enhanced as a person through her time spent with the girls. “They have grown. We have grown as a school. Today we offer the world new scholars, girls who now can face any challenge as they move on to the next chapter in their academic and life journey. The future leaders of South Africa. The future leaders of the world.”

Present at the ceremony was Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, who gave the keynote address and serves on the board of directors of the academy. A pioneer and leader on women’s issues in her own right, Machel, who has a post graduate scholarship for African women named in her honour to train women in areas of health and education, emphasized the importance of women’s leadership in ensuring Africa’s prosperity.

Also among the guests at the ceremony was South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education, Ms. Angie Motsekga.

Two of the girls were honored with special awards. Bongeka Zuma, from Nkwezela in Kwa Zulu Natal, achieved six distinctions. She is considering to study political sciences at Spelman University in United States of America and received the Dux award for academic excellence. The award is determined by the scores of the four compulsory subjects (English, First Additional Language, Mathematics and Life Orientation), and then adding the scores of the three remaining subjects.

Between grades 9 and 11, Zuma received academic honours and has been a top achiever in mathematics and IsiZulu. She notes one of her proudest achievements as growing from being a shy girl in Grade 8 to being elected deputy chair in Grade 12.

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Award, voted for by peers and teachers, was given to Marwiya James. James scored distinctions in Afrikaans, Accounting, Life Orientation, Business Studies and Visual Arts. She now plans to return to her native province of the Western Cape, where she hails from Mitchell’s Plain, to study at the University of Cape Town to become a chartered accountant.

James, who describes her entrepreneur and community worker father as a role model, has been a recipient of service and leadership awards and was President of the Learner Representative Council during her time at the academy.

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