|US talk show queen and media mogul Oprah Winfrey (C) poses with the first graduates of the Oprah...|
Beaming, in a turquoise dress, with the 72 graduates sitting behind her in white, Winfrey, whose rise to stardom and an estimated fortune of $2.7 billion followed a deprived childhood in Mississippi, spoke of why she decided to open the school with a $40-million investment in 2007. "I know that education is the door to freedom," she said.So I want to do that for girls who come from backgrounds like my own, who have disadvantaged circumstances but no disadvantaged attitudes or brainpower or spirit. I want to give them the chance that I was given."
Winfrey, 58, told the story of how she mentioned to Nelson Mandela over tea at his house one day that she was interested in building a girls' school in South Africa.
Speaking at the idyllic campus of the school, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls -- which boasts computer and science laboratories, a 600-seat theatre and a 10,000-volume library -- Winfrey defended the idea of investing lavishly in a small group of promising young women. The school has faced criticism for focusing on a select few in a country that struggles to meet basic education needs.
"We are in the leadership building business. We are in the business of creating assets for girls so they don't have to just use their bodies but they go out into the world and use their minds," she said.