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Oprah asks each one, "Why do you think you're a leader?" Out of the mouth of an 11-year-old comes, "I can lead because I value the opinions of others, I listen to them, I can help them, but I don't let them break the rules."

Oprah remains intensely focused in this once-in-a-lifetime conversation with each girl. She wants to strike a balance: She is drawn to girls bursting with charisma, the "it factor," and to others for their quietude and depth. "Do you have lots of friends?" she asks. "My whole school loves me!" one girl says cheerfully. "Wherever I go, they follow me!" And another shyly admits to having only one friend. "It's good to have one special friend," says Oprah. Two sisters recently orphaned after family violence express concern in their separate interviews that only one might be chosen. "I would worry so much about my sister," says the younger girl, "I'd be always thinking, Where is she, is she all right, has she eaten today?"

"What's the greatest moment of your life so far?" Oprah asks. "Being here now, with you," the girls say. They are in this room because they possess a will to succeed despite terrible odds. Poised beyond their years, graceful, sweet, giggly and bursting to live a dream unthinkable only one generation ago. Some might call them lucky; others would suggest that they are a classic example of "preparation meeting opportunity."

It will be difficult to make the final choices. "Really hard!" Oprah says. "But we're creating a model, only 15 girls in a classroom, where each child will have attention." Her requirements are stringent: No pregnancies, no drugs or alcohol; hair must be short or neatly braided. Her hopes are high: The charter group will be made up of 7th and 8th graders, who will become the first two graduating classes. By then the school will have a student body of approximately 450. Trained in decision making, critical and expansive thinking, social responsibility and the rewards of giving back to one's own community, they will be prepared to lead in the quest for peace, progress, and prosperity in South Africa and the world.


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