01/02/2007 at 08:00 AM EST
Oprah Winfrey's $40 million girls' school in South Africa opened its doors on Tuesday to 152 students handpicked by the media mogul.
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henly-on-Klip fulfills a promise she made six years ago to former President Nelson Mandela to give students a better future.
"I wanted to give this opportunity to girls who had a light so bright that not even poverty could dim that light," Winfrey said at a press conference, the Associated Press reports.
Mandela was among the guests at the opening, as were Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, actors Sidney Poitier and Chris Tucker and director Spike Lee, according to the AP.
By providing education to the girls in the lavish setting
, Winfrey said she hoped she could help "change the face of a nation" that had once been divided by apartheid.
"Girls who are educated are less likely to get HIV/AIDS, and in this country in which it has such a pandemic, we have to begin to change the pandemic," she said.
In her remarks at the opening ceremony, Winfrey recalled that, during her own impoverished childhood, education was "the most vital aspect of my life."
"I was a poor girl who grew up with my grandmother, like so many of these girls, with no water and electricity," she said.
She also promised to make the academy the "best school in the world" and to continue her support of the girls so they could attend any university in the world. She added that she's building a home for herself on the campus so she can be close to the students.
"I love these girls with every part of my being. I didn't know you could feel this way about other people's children," she said.