A potential student at the leadership academy is excited about the opportunities ahead.

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Oprah envisions the school as much more than a great institution for learning. It is a home, and has to be aesthetically pleasing. "When you have a beautiful environment," she says, "it inspires beauty in you. That's what I want to do with these girls." She has also commissioned artwork by both renowned and emerging artists from all over South Africa so that the girls can live in appreciation and celebration of their heritage.

Every classroom has an outdoor teaching space, sometimes a garden. A leafy tree shading cool benches provides a place where Oprah imagines a girl can "sit with a book or be with [her]self." Amid these soulful elements, the school will offer state-of-the-art technology, a gym, and, at Oprah's insistence, a magnificent amphitheater, "for expression, art, poetry reading, and oratory." Great leaders need to be great orators.

Every tile, door handle and finish has been Oprah's particular choice. In the dormitories, each with its own small kitchen and terrace, Oprah's touches abound. She has chosen white sheets, towels for their softness, pillowcases bearing an embroidered O, and the colors for the bathroom tiles—orange, green and happy yellow. The girls will sleep two to a room, each with her own spacious closet and desk. Hearing at the preliminary interview rounds that each girl will have her own bed, some of the candidates leapt with joy. "My own bed! That will be like heaven!" one cried.

Oprah sits down on a bed. "It's everything I asked for," she says quietly. She smoothes the sheet, as if readying it for her special girl. "They are my daughters now," she says.