Oprah Winfrey


It's official! Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls can now claim a class of graduates.

The media mogul's philanthropic school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa held its first graduation ceremony for 72 young women Saturday, after opening its doors in 2007, according to Reuters

"The pride that I feel today is overpowering," Winfrey reportedly said during the graduation. "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," the former talk show host went on.

While the Academy has had its share of controversy since its inception (a dorm matron was accused of sexually abusing students shortly after the school opened, and some of the students were suspended for "inappropriate behavior" and sexual misconduct back in 2009), it has proven to be a positive addition to the community in the face of adversity.

The school, for example, was among a few in South Africa in which all of the students passed the high school graduation exam, and 72 of the original 75 members graduated from the school. 

MORE: Oprah Winfrey Gets Schooled in South Africa

To put that success into perspective, in South Africa more than half a million members of the class of 2011 dropped out before the remaining 496,000 took their final exams. And only a quarter of those who graduated qualified for university study, according to government stats.

So what's the next step for the Academy's graduates?

The girls, who wore white to the ceremony, will head to college in South Africa and the United States, according to the news agency.

"I was tested. We all were tested," Winfrey said. "I'm a proud, proud momma."

In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer on World News that aired Friday, the O Network founder said of the Academy (which cost her $40 million to build), "I've learned so much...I would do it differently, but the fact that we are here is a triumph. This has been a journey of 8,000 miles. Tomorrow, for me, is about celebrating the journey this has been.

"I've just never seen a more resilient or brilliant group of girls," Winfrey said. "I mean they have a heart of brilliance. They're just so open and gracious...I'm such a proud mother. They have taken this moment, this opportunity, and seized it in a way that I could only dream of."

Congrats to Winfrey and the graduates! 

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