I can hardly believe that more than 10 years ago we officially opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls and welcomed our first class of itty bitty students, they were like young pups.
I'm so proud of all the incredible accomplishments of the students and of our alumnae. I am proud of our faculty who work tirelessly, giving up long hours; sacrificing their own families and engagements in their own lives to give to our girls. I am thankful to the OWLAG Board for their support and their guidance. I am grateful for all the families and communities that have supported our vision of creating a safe space to educate, to nurture, to empower and, of course, to inspire this next generation of leaders for South Africa and for the world.
As most of you know this school was my idea of a gift, not just to South Africa but in particular to Madiba. During my first visit to Nelson Mandela's home, back in 2002, I pledged to build a school for girls in South Africa because he and I both discussed and agreed that education was a way to end poverty in the nation of South Africa. The Academy opened its doors five years later, in 2007.
I was overcome with emotion, another five years later, as I witnessed the first graduating class of 72 students - that first Matric class walking across the stage in their beautiful dresses to accept their high school certificates. All of those young ladies were accepted into universities and colleges in and around South Africa as well as in the United States. Our alumnae are now graduating college and university and determining how they are going to make their mark in the world. I could not feel any more honored and proud of the work they have done to accomplish their goals and achieve their dreams.
I know it's just the beginning. Each graduating class continues to strive for their personal best because that is all I ask of them for this great gift of education - their personal best. Each class continues to aim to bring positive change to their communities, their hometowns, their families and of course to themselves because what I know for sure is that education continues to be the key to transforming lives. I know too, that when you educate a girl she takes what she learns back to her community. When you invest in a young woman you are investing in the future, not only of South Africa but also of the world. So these young ladies are a symbol and a beacon of light, of what is possible. One of the most rewarding things in my life has been to see them blossom into the women I knew they could become when I first saw them as young pups coming into the school.
Thank you to the leadership and to all who continue to support the Academy and the Foundation. Our work continues.