*Oprah Winfrey spoke to reporters Friday on the eve of the first graduation at her school.
Of the 75 students who started at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in 2007, 72 will graduate Saturday. All are headed to universities in South Africa and the United States to pursue such studies as medicine, law, engineering and economics.
Across South Africa, more than half a million members of the class of 2011 disappeared before the 496,000 remaining took their final exams. Only a quarter of those who graduated did well enough to qualify for university study.
“We’re taking a victory lap here, for transformation,” Winfrey told the AP. “Every single girl is going to leave here with something greater to offer the world than her body.”
South Africa is struggling to overcome the inequalities of apartheid, which ended in 1994. The country has too few schools at all levels, and many lack such basics as libraries and are staffed by undereducated teachers.
Earlier this week, a stampede at a Johannesburg university campus killed a mother who had accompanied her son to an in-person application day. Thousands were vying for a few hundred spots at the university.
Winfrey, who spent $40 million on her campus, said her focus was “just to change one girl, affect one person’s life.” But she acknowledged hers “is not a sustainable model for most people in most countries.”
Another new class starts at Winfrey’s school next week. But to help more young Africans, Winfrey said she would be working with established philanthropies to identify schools around the developing world that can be strengthened with money.
She hopes to adapt some of the practices of her school, including creating strong support networks for students.
“It takes a lot of support, it takes a whole team,” she said, saying teachers and communities would have to be active participants.