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Associated Press
Oprah Winfrey talks to the Associated Press at her Leadership Academy for Girls at Henley-On-Klip South Africa, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 on the eve of the first graduation at her school.

HENLEY-ON-KLIP, South Africa — Oprah Winfrey makes no apologies for spending millions on an elite school for underprivileged South African girls. But she's also looking for ways to make her money stretch further to help more struggling Africans.

Winfrey spoke 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 who will graduate today.

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 said. "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.

Her focus on girls was not among the strategies she would change. Winfrey said studies have shown helping girls helps entire communities, in part because girls and women give back so much.

"I know what it's like to be a poor girl with your heart's desire to do well in the world," she added. "I chose to use my philanthropy to do what I know."