Mpumi Nobiva was raised by her grandmother in a neighborhood beset by poverty and crime after her mother died of AIDS. Now one of the first to graduate from Oprah Winfrey’s school, she is headed to college in North Carolina.
Winfrey spent $40 million to give her girls a campus with computer and science labs, a library and a wellness center. None paid tuition. The students are high-achievers, often from communities where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid. And as the South African school year nears its end, all 72 members of the school’s first graduating class have been accepted to universities in South Africa or the United States. More than a dozen have received full scholarships.
Winfrey told her students that when you teach a girl, you teach a nation. “The first class, my class, will prove that,” said Nobiva, 18, who will study visual and performing arts at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Winfrey will be at the school for graduation ceremonies in January, school officials said Wednesday as students gathered to reflect on their experiences over the last five years. The school that has drawn sometimes harsh attention because of the celebrity who founded it, and also because of early problems. Students have been accused of being spoiled. Allegations that a woman employed to care for the girls in their dormitory had instead abused teens were the subject of headlines around the world. The woman was acquitted last year.
Earlier this year, a newborn born to a student at the school was found dead, again drawing international attention. “Yes, we’ve had bad coverage,” Nobiva said. “But it has certainly made us stronger.”
Winfrey, who has visited her school often, has instilled a sense of purpose. On Wednesday, Nobiva’s classmates — aspiring doctors, accountants, engineers, and lawyers — spoke of their plans to serve their communities. “You can imagine the impact of girls with that insight going out into the universe,” Nobiva said.