Oprah Winfrey was a surprise guest at Elon University Friday as she celebrated the graduation of a student who made it to the North Carolina school by way of South Africa – with a little help from Winfrey along the way.
The student is Nosipho Shangase, who was orphaned at a young age and attended the the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. Winfrey’s academy, which opened in 2007, has been funded by more than $40 million in donations by Winfrey and serves about 290 girls in eighth through 12th grades.
Every year, Winfrey takes a tour of the colleges at graduation time to visit the students who attended her South African school.
Friday, Winfrey met with Elon’s president along with other members of the Elon community before attending the baccalaureate address, where she was seen sitting next to Shangase. Shangase enrolled at the school in 2013, according to a 2013 release from the college, and will graduate Saturday.
Winfrey said she was a proud “mentor Mom,” according to a news release from Elon, celebrating what she called an astounding accomplishment by her South African “daughter girl.” That’s how she refers to her students.
“To understand the fullness of her journey is to understand resilience in the face of multiple adversities, pain, and loss,” Winfrey said in the release. “Her walk across the Elon stage to receive her diploma will be a victory walk. Not only for her but for me, her entire family, past and present. I along with her ancestors will be cheering the loudest!”
Shangase, whose parents died when she was young, lived with relatives until applying to Winfrey’s academy and credits the school with helping her learn how to be a good student and leader.
In the 2013 story about Shangase and her childhood, she said Winfrey has been a mother to all of the girls studying in the United States and was a source of strength because “she’s a phone call away.”
In an Instagram video posted to Winfrey’s account Friday, the TV personality and Shangase appear in front of an Elon banner.
“Welcome to my college tour. We’re at Elon, where Nosipho is getting ready for baccalaureate services. Elon University, yay,” Winfrey said as she and Shangase exchanged high fives. “One more down.”
Winfrey has spent the past week visiting schools attended by graduates of the Academy. She spoke at the May 13 graduation at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, according to a university release. The school’s senior class included a graduate of the Winfrey’s school.
In an Instagram post May 13, which coincided with her visit to Agnes Scott College, Winfrey wrote that she had “1 down, 9 to go this year.”
According to Elon, Winfrey will deliver two more commencement addresses at schools of her Academy graduates. On Saturday, she will be at Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, N.Y., and at Smith College in Massachusetts, on Sunday.
As for Shangase, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public health studies, Elon said, and has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a prestigious grant to help her research implementing a youth skills program in the South African township she lived in before attending Winfrey’s school.
This fall, she will attend UNC to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology. She will then transition into the doctoral program, into which she already has been accepted.