Getting into the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school in South Africa, was not easy for Lindiwe Tsope in 2007. Out of 12 pupils from her primary school in Soweto, only two made it to the academy after a rigorous process of interviewing, she recalled in an interview. Getting to experience life on a bigger scale while at the academy, one of her biggest moments was being able to meet international movie stars, who visited the academy to give the girls motivational talks.
When she first joined the academy, it was tough having to make the shift from being taught in isiZulu at a township school to speaking English full time. But she braved all odds, and today she is the first pupil from the academy to graduate with a doctoral research degree (Ph.D.).
The 27-year-old from Soweto obtained her doctor of philosophy degree in sociology last week, a year after completing her thesis, TimesLIVE reported. She graduated from Rhodes University in her pajamas in a ceremony that was held virtually.
“When the university sent an e-mail saying I am graduating in April, it was a big deal for me. It was amazing. I am still processing the depth of it. It’s a huge milestone. It’s not my milestone, but my family’s and the community’s milestone,” said Tsope, who is overwhelmed with joy.
In her PhD research, she focused on the topic of “a narrative study of students’ and staff’s experiences of living with HIV and Aids at Rhodes University,” Rhodes University said.
“The main goal I wanted to achieve was to understand what it feels like to live with HIV, to understand what people living with HIV are saying about interventions that are in place for them at the university and to find out where they place themselves,” she was quoted by TimesLIVE.
Her research, which is the first of its kind at Rhodes University, included conducting interviews with students and staff members. She did that through the university clinic. In her final year, however, she faced some challenges due to Covid-19 lockdown regulations. The university closed and everyone went home. She said she nearly extended her degree by one more year.
“Tsope’s journey to attaining her Ph.D. was not an easy one. However, after much-needed support and encouragement from her peers and colleagues, she found the will to push herself and complete her journey within the designated time,” the university said.
Tsope has attributed her feat to the support she received from her family members, supervisors and colleagues, and of course Oprah Winfrey. “I had an extensive conversation with Mam’ Oprah when I submitted my thesis. She was so proud and she reminded me that I did this. I was thanking her for the opportunity to be academically equipped and to dream this far, but she brought it back to me to say it was my hard work that made me achieve this goal.
“She reminded me that I worked for this”.
To Tsope, the media mogul has indeed transformed her life and her family. “She went as far as investing in us as human beings. It was not just a financial investment on her end.”
Tsope now plans to work at an NGO that focuses on HIV/Aids, research and community programmes.