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1st Class of Oprah’s South African School Prepares for Graduation

All 72 members of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls initial class will graduate in January. The high achievers–hailing from impoverished, AIDs-ridden communities—filled with hopes and dreams were able to attend the $40million boarding school tuition-free.

What’s next for the young women? College, of course; the first graduating class has been accepted to universities in South Africa or the United States. More than a dozen have received full scholarships.

This is high praise for Winfrey, who will be attending the graduation ceremonies, and her team of educators and administrators who endured negative publicity surrounding the school. Despite the media mogul’s high-rating daytime talk show and popularity, many were quick to criticize her philanthropic project.

Then there were the multiple scandals. In 2007 a dorm matron was relieved of her duties and arrested following accusations that she abused and assaulted six students. She was acquitted last year. A shocking scandal, which caused the queen of talk great disheartenment, involved seven students who were suspended for alleged inappropriate sexual misconduct. The most tragic scandal was reported in February when a dead baby was found in a bag belonging to a 17-year-old girl brought to the hospital. She was treated for excessive bleeding. It was never confirmed if the baby was murdered or died from natural causes, and no charges were filed against the girl.

In a season of storms, the academy has weathered through it, and for the 72 young ladies their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is in reach.