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“Failure has taught me some lessons I sincerely believe I will never forget” – Meet Deborah Olufunmi Ayodele, UNILAG’s Top Graduate 2009

In the university, there were times I didn’t feel like reading. Some courses initially posed serious difficulties, but I eventually took up courage. In my first year, I felt exam tension…



We hear so many negative stories about the present situation in Nigeria. The decaying power, healthcare, agricultural and educational systems. From within these heaps of shame, there are rays of hope. People who excel, despite the odds stacked against them. Deborah Olufunmi Ayodele is a young Nigerian woman who has set herself apart, she was the top graduating student from the University of Lagos, Class of 2009. BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu interviewed Deborah exclusively for


Wednesday, January 20, 2010 will remain evergreen in the memories of the Ayodeles as their first child and only daughter graduated top of the University of Lagos graduating class of 2009. In this interview, Deborah Olufunmi Ayodele who graduated with a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 4.96/5.00 lets us into her world.

Tell us a bit about you
I am Deborah Olufunmi Ayodele, a native of Uro-Ajowa in Ondo state, Nigeria. I was born on July 28, 1989; the first of two children and a graduate of the Department of Geography, University of Lagos. I graduated as the best student from the 2009 graduating class.

Your CGPA of 4.96 translates to how many As?
I had all As, but two Bs throughout my stay in UNILAG. I had the Bs in 2nd Semester Year 2 and the following semester. I feel pleased and very thankful to God for His grace upon my life that enabled me to record such a remarkable result.

Why Geography?
I studied Geography because I really liked it. I found it easy to study. It offered me an opportunity to learn so many new things about people, the world around me, natural and man-made events. I believed Geography was going to provide me with a good foundation for future specialization as it is a good blend of the sciences and the humanities. I was aware of the various opportunities that would be open to me with a foundation in Geography. Therefore, I planned to study Geography in the first place. In my JAMB form I filled in Geography as my first choice.

Did you set out to be the best graduating student and what motivates you?
When I gained admission into the University, I did not set out to finish as the best graduating student, but I wanted to be among the best students in my class. I cannot say it just happened; I will call it a combination of divine favour, grace and hard work. My motivation for success has come from different sources over the years. My major and constant source has been God. Motivation has also come from my parents, friends and from reading and listening to motivational and success oriented messages.

Please let us into your academic history.
I attended Junior Strides Academy, Ebute-Metta, Lagos, for primary education. At the beginning, I was just an average student but my parents, teachers and the results of my classmates challenged me to crave for excellence. By the time I got to primary four I was already at the top of the class. My primary school arranged for me to write the common entrance examination into her sister College, after which I got a scholarship for the first year. But my parents insisted that I finish primary six before progressing to the secondary school (which I did). I attended the Yaba College of Technology Secondary School. I had the best result in my school’s Junior School Certificate Examination (JSCE) with 11As, a B and a C. I also had a tie with a friend for the best result in the WAEC examination with 4As and 5Bs.

It appears I have always been doing very well, right? But failure has taught me some lessons I sincerely believe I will never forget. After my JSCE, I became rather complacent and just managed through S.S.1. My results were actually very good in most of my subjects while I was above average in the others, but in ways that mattered to me, I stopped being an excellent student. This was a wake-up call for me and I had to strive to excel and work really hard, praying all the way and striving to be diligent.

Deborah, what lessons did you learn from that episode?
I learnt that in order to achieve excellence and remain there, CONSISTENCY is very important. If you start well, do not relent midway; continue to be diligent so that you will finish strong. Also, no subject is too hard or impossible to understand. With God there is nothing that is impossible. Lastly, for a student, hobbies are good, being playful is good, but if an individual does not achieve an equilibrium between these activities and academics (which should be of high priority at that stage in life), then trouble may be just around the corner.

How about growing up and your challenges in the university?
Growing up for me was very interesting. I had different people in different places that I could call my friends. It was totally a wonderful experience. In the university, there were times I didn’t feel like reading. Some courses initially posed serious difficulties, but I eventually took up courage. In my first year, I felt exam tension but I overcame. At some points, I also had disagreements with some classmates, especially those who felt I was hoarding important study materials, thereby gaining undue advantage over other classmates. It took some time for them to understand that I did no such thing. We just understood and derived different things from the study materials we read. The university experience is a big challenge that every student must stand up to, if success is to be achieved.

Aside academics, what extracurricular activities did you take part in?
In my first year, I wrote MUSON Grade 5 Theory examination and passed with Merit. I was the Academic Secretary for The Apostolic Church Students Fellowship of Nigeria (TACSFON), UNILAG, and later Financial Secretary of the same fellowship. I also did computer studies and learnt to use some relevant software like Arc GIS, Mapinfo and Macromedia Freehand. In November 2007, I had the privilege of representing the University of Lagos at the World Students’ Leaders Summit in East London.

Are there things you would have loved to do while in school, but you did not do?
I would have loved to join a student body like AIESEC, JCI or both. I’d also have loved to be a bit more playful, but knowing that there was not much time, I had to prioritize.

Any nuggets for young people still in the university?
I advise all young people in the University to always put God first. Be very selective of the people you imitate. A desire to excel, discipline, diligence, determination and consistency are required in order to achieve excellence in whatever sphere of life. I wish them the very best in life.

Please share your experience since you started your NYSC programme in Niger State in March 2010.
I was at the Orientation Camp in March 2010 and started serving at the Ministry of Lands and Housing, Minna in April. I currently work in the town planning department. The bulk of our work involves designing proposed layouts for undeveloped lands/places that need renewal, preparing site analyses and reports for land sites inspected by the Ministry in order to process the C’s of O for such property. As a corps member, I also carry out any other duties assigned to me either by my departmental supervisor, the Director, Town Planning department, or the Commissioner for Lands and Housing. In my office, the staffs relate well with corps members. They believe corps members are enlightened and knowledgeable and can contribute a lot to the system, so their expectations are very high. The native people are, on the average, very nice and welcoming. It even gets better when they observe that you have taken an interest in them, their language and way of life. Yet there are certain people who would want to exploit you financially because they know you are a corps member. Nevertheless, my overall the experience has been quite interesting.

What lessons have you learnt during the course of your National Youth Service programme?
Service year has been wonderful. I have learnt what independence means at a greater level: it does not mean freedom to do what you please, it means living your life and making necessary decisions in such a way that they contribute to making you the kind of person you want to be tomorrow. Oh… and I can assure you that there are serious decisions to make! I keep learning everyday about relating and interacting with people. I have also come to understand better the fact that the kind of information, people and activities you expose yourself to will unconsciously and consciously make you the person you become tomorrow.

How does life outside school compare to life back in the university?

For me, life outside school is majorly different from life in school – one does not have solely lectures to attend all day and theoretical concepts to deal with. Life in UNILAG greatly prepared me for the life I’m now living outside school. This is in terms of time management, leadership, team work and relating with people. Life after school is so much more of ‘every man for himself’. Also, working in an office is a totally different experience from schooling in the University. The world I’m experiencing now is such that I have a long stretch of fixed hours for which I am expected to undertake certain tasks. …Yet, for me there are very strong similarities between life in UNILAG and life after school: I still have to wake up very early in the morning to start my day; the work level is approximately the same, I have deadlines to meet, assignments to do (though not exactly like the ones in school), and reports to prepare and deliver. The difference is just that I find these activities very easy to engage in now because I was involved in them in school. Also, in comparison, time flexibility in the workplace is restricted unlike in school and then the caliber of people I relate with are not majorly academicians like it was in school, but people of diverse leanings. In both life in UNILAG and life after school, God has remained faithful and it is His love, grace and faithfulness that have upheld me and helped me in all my endeavours.

How about your best food and hobbies?
I love fried rice with coleslaw. I enjoy listening to music, reading novels, dancing and watching movies.

What do you plan to do next and where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I think I take time in making important decisions. I presently have several options and would require some time to make informed decisions about my next steps. I have not come up with a definite plan yet, I am still working on my decision.

Digital Content Strategist | Creative Writer. Copy Editor. Storyteller. Vocalist. Amateur Pianist. Spoken Word Poetry recording artiste. Lover of Words & Images. #ArsenalFC. Twitter: @gbengaawomodu


  1. Amour

    October 26, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    She is repping for those of us from Ondo! Well don girl!

    • Tres Belle

      October 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      Yes o!!!! Ondo pple have got brains…..*wink*

    • mariaah

      October 26, 2010 at 9:08 pm

      When I saw Ondo, I went Aahh ok nah Ondo pikin.. You lot have got brains I won’t lie..

    • Joohls

      October 26, 2010 at 10:06 pm

      lol nigerians and their clueless comments.

    • The real miss pinky..

      October 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

      My thought’s exactly…

    • deebaby

      October 28, 2010 at 1:12 am

      LOL…OMG! Now that was VERY funny!..LOL

  2. bukiola

    October 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    waohhhhh…dts all i can say….i dont envy u @ all….4.96!…..all d best in life…..

  3. Tosin

    October 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Awesome story – just proves the point, hard work counts always.

    I wish her all the best in her future endeavours! God bless her!

  4. Alfie

    October 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    wow!!!! Naija ahead ahead….just makes me remember when my parents used to say “do they have two heads? you can do it too”

    • Ngozi

      October 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      lol!i remeber that too

  5. Ademi

    October 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Congrats to her, but book tough ooo my people. If i no understand i use crammers rule.

  6. Kay

    October 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Well done.

  7. bimpe

    October 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Whao! Its refreshing to see BN beaming her spotlight on an Intelligent Nigerian Student/Education. Thank you BN. Thanks a million Debby for reminding our youths that you can still strive and acheive excellence through HARDWORK!!!!

  8. WaleAdeniji

    October 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    That’s great. The sky is your stepping stone. Wish you all the best in life.

  9. Thetruthhurts

    October 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Cool…I just hope U use ur talents well and don’t end up like a lot of other celebrated child prodigies…

  10. Ginika

    October 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Mehn I am inspired again! last time I was inspired by the young female scientist in Thailand. In a country were people strive to be mediocre, its just a matter of time that your own standard will drop and that what happens to me from time to time here in Southy. I am ready to rise and kick some serious White butts who think blacks are stupid, dying of AIDS, poor, criminals, educated monkies, illetrates,low classed etc. I dont blame them because they dont know there is a difference between being NIGERIAN and being a BLACK PERSON (Nigerians are Africans are suffer from the same disorganisation the rest of Africa suffers however do not categorise a Nigerian with the common sayings about Blacks).

    Regardless of the bad publicity and bad image along with the good ones it just proves that we are different and cannot be boxed in (full stop).

  11. Ginika

    October 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Forgive the English!

  12. Seun O.

    October 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    BN, this is a really great feature that you should explore more and more. It shouldn’t just be about fashion & beauty.
    @ Deborah, congratulations to you!! You did an awsome job and i look forward to seeing and reading more about your future accomplishments. Go Ondo babes whohoooo……

    • ugo

      October 28, 2010 at 6:07 am

      I agree. stuff like this inspires us to work harder… like Ginika, i was also greatly inspired by that chic in thailand, and like ginika, my standards have been let slip cos im surrounded by mediocrity. the fashion sturvz is OK, but a good mix might be more beneficial to cater for people with a wider range of interests. not that fashion is not good, but im sure there are a few people who’d be more interested in more of other stuff like this than too much fashion

  13. temilola

    October 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    congrats, you’re worth celebrating, u’ve really made Ondo gurls proud

  14. Akinnifesi S.

    October 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Congratulations Ayodele, d Ondos are intelligent set of people, thanks for making us proud girl, i wish you well in your future endeavors especially maritally. To BN, thanks for this column and to Awomodu Gbenga, u are doing a great job.God bless you.

  15. Sandra

    October 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    go girl well done………..

  16. Ayo

    October 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    BN thanks for sharing this. Hard work with divine favour definitely brings success. Well done Deborah.

  17. olaotan

    October 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    OMG… thanks for representing we from ondo well….we’ve got brains..God bless you

  18. Seymour

    October 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Nigerians, give up your tribalist mentality.

    • deebaby

      October 28, 2010 at 1:14 am

      Tell them abeg..Pls drop this Ondo this Ondo that abeg!

  19. jessy

    October 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    God first……..I love dat, God b wit u and u re wat 2 talk about. Keep it up

  20. Bun bun

    October 26, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    she was my class mate back in yabatech sec sch. She’s smart as hell. Proud of her and wuld def. claim her… lol

  21. Nneka

    October 26, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Great inspiring feature! I hope she gets a fab, fantastic
    job after NYSC. Girly looks super nerdy o. Now that she has the grades sorted out, we need to fix that hair and ……yep, I guess it all comes back to the “fashion and beauty” drawing broad somehow.

    • BN Fan

      October 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      What a dumb comment. Sad to see some nigerian women have degraded themselves to such a level that our accomplishments do not matter if our looks and clothing are not “on point”.

    • Abi

      October 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

      I agree. What a hater and one who cannot spell!

  22. dahmola

    October 26, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    deborah am proud of u..and i use u as a piont of contact to all myself and friends..ur a true gem and ur worth celebrating..

  23. thelma ohiri- anyanwu

    October 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    deb, i’m so hapi for you, i had always known u wuld always make us proud, i remember back then in sec school u were one of d people in class dat motivated me to face my studies nd work hard. It has reali helped me a great deal. Thanks for making YCTSS proud. See ya at the top

  24. Miss ATL

    October 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Very well done!

  25. Ndee

    October 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    congrats girl! u have really done the department proud. Go geographers!!!

  26. akinbamiyorin helen

    October 26, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    yes boss ! am a proud ondo chic! keep it up gal!

  27. oluwasola

    October 27, 2010 at 1:30 am

    great, all the best!

  28. Bum_la

    October 27, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Well done! Maybe you can be instrumental in the near future in heralding environmental friendly issues in Nigeria.

    • zinny

      October 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm

      i am with you, this is just the start…. she really need to translate all that wisdom into helping our climate. especially nigerian climate.

  29. Najia

    October 27, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Definitely a beautiful story indeed!

  30. Gino

    October 27, 2010 at 6:23 am

    What do you expect, hard works pays. who work go chop.

  31. fokasibe

    October 27, 2010 at 7:13 am

    May the good Lord Who has started this in your life not stop till He is done with you…It’s all the grace of God and your dedication….Well done! Proud a ya!

  32. Peperempe

    October 27, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Very nice feature Bella, more of this please and a bit less of pseudo-designers! And i think there’s nothing wrong with her looks as Nneka suggests, we don’t all have to look the same . Very clever, confident and well-spoken young lady she is.

  33. adenike

    October 27, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Congrats! What more can i say? Gosh,I’m more than impressed…………

  34. Ola

    October 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Very inspiring piece

  35. Andre_de_Canuck

    October 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Please I’m from Ijebu…Can someone sell me his/her Ondo brain?…I’m so serious about it…..Good luck to the lady

  36. Glo

    October 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Its true that God is great, because we are supposed to do the best and then god does the rest. Congrats with inspirational story… Keep the flame up gal!

  37. The Bola

    October 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Congratulations! I pray that she continues to rise to the top

  38. lady

    October 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    congrats funmi my dear.*in igbo accent* i know say you go make us proud*winks*

  39. RMG

    October 27, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I love this babe…wonderful story,very encouraging and inspiring from someone her age and as such, I’m going back to school for my PHD….Pls drop the ethnicity,she’s a nigerian and makes us all proud!

  40. Catherine

    October 28, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Well done girl. For me, this goes along way to show that parents should allow their kids to study the course of their choice. That way they can easily channel their energies at been the best they can without any feeling of compulsion from parents.

    My only prayer though, is that such academic success will translate to career success. Cos in a country like ours, securing the best of jobs is not determined by merit but by the influence(political or economic) of one’s parents.

    Until Nigerians grow above who you know to get what u want, such academic success stories will remain as ‘stories’ outside the fourwalls of the university.
    Let us all stand up for what is right. People like Deborah should be given award and even scholarship to pursue their academy to even the Phd level, if they so desire.

    Congrats again.

  41. whipmyhair

    October 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    before anyone goes off on me. please what kind of degree is called geography? i mean, i have never heard of a graduate of geography. its just like saying a graduate of history!
    congratulations to the girl though.

    • onthesubject

      October 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

      Did u attend university?

      How old are you?
      History and Geography are Degree Courses! I guess you have never heard of English or Yoruba degrees either…Ever heard of graduate of law? guess not …not surprising coming from someone imitating a child …whipmyhair ko, flogmyyansh ni

    • Gorgeous

      October 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      rotflmao. now this was a hilarious response. Whip my hair had it coming with that answer. “Whip my hair ko…”rotfl

    • Ngozi

      October 29, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      Oh my gosh!!!! LOLLLLL!!!!!! Ah!! U people sha!

    • Dod

      November 9, 2010 at 2:47 am

      ROTFLMAO!!!…..that really cracked me up! that is the exact response whipmyhair deserves!

  42. Godlovesme4me

    October 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    whipmyhair, geography is a degree ofcourse…it sounds kinda weird but geographers are well representing….we need them to know the best geographic location to set any kind of building. Every degree has its value.
    Congrats Debs, u def. made everyone proud of you. Rgdless of where u from, the most imp. thing is you put God first and He certainly saw u through. I sure am very inspired. U interviewed beautifully well and I am glad BN featured you. Thumbs up B. Life too short to not be motivated or try to excel in life…Im sure glad some of us are making gd name for ourselves and striving for greater achievements. May the Lord continue to strength us all. All the best Debs, I’m sure we will be hearing gd n grt things from you in the future.
    ArcGIS, now when I saw that I was totally proud cos I’m currently taking that course and its one of the best engineering software to locate and identify anywhere in this world. Go Unilag!!

    • Nene

      October 28, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      Seriously, I didn’t know Unilag had access to the software not to talk of actually having professors to teach the course. I’m impressed, I hope it’s not all theoretical though.

  43. simplyfruity

    October 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

    U go girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Hard work and prayers DO WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    You are and will always be an inspiration………………………………………………….
    When I heard d 4.96 GPA, i was wowed and so prrrrrrrrrrooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuddddddddddd of uuuuuuuuuu……………….

    Congratulations once again……………This is just d beggining, the best is yet to come……………………………………………………….
    @ Nene- *rolling my eyes* Im going to presume u rnt in nigeria.
    well!!!!!!! now you know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. Anyaposh

    October 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Wow…wisdom from a 20 year old. She said “be careful the people you imitate”!

  45. bridget

    October 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    you re a role moel debbie. there re a lots of youth that re out there looking for pplelyk u to inspire them. whao! you re a genius 4 writing such a ud grade. anyway, am nt jealous oh,dont quote me wrong, jst want 2 be lyk u as well. am counting u as a mentor nw. plscan u send me ur phone number so i can talk to you cos i lyk associating with pple lyk u. tanx 2 bella naija 4 bringing out pple lyk u. i luvu girl kip it up cos the world is waiting for u to exploid!

  46. Nicole

    October 30, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Great story!

  47. chubby

    October 30, 2010 at 1:59 am

    still cant stop laughing at onthesubject response to whipmyhair. @whipmyhair, wat do u mean by “its just like saying a graduate of history!”. dnt u fink some pple av 2 learn bout history & preserve it 4 posterity’s sake? neway, congrats deborah.

  48. klady

    November 1, 2010 at 2:00 am

    OMG…she is just 20…
    cgpa of 4.96, now that’s a classic

    i doff my hat 4 u!!! here i am struggling to graduate with a 2.1…am so so so so proud of this girl!!!
    wish her all the best of life.

  49. Tilekun

    November 7, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Tell you what Deborah, if you ever get to read these comments please don’t waste away in Niger. You obviously have a brain and determination – you go girl! Now its time to make your country great and make money while doing whatever.

  50. jennietobbie

    November 10, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Wow…in Naija…? 4.96? This is like our savior right now. There are no excuses…she did it….so can you….. Congrats girl

  51. opeisfavoured

    November 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I am greatly inspired by this young lady! This is what happens when you put God first, work hard and stay focused in faith that He will see you through every single challenge. God who made this possible will bless you with an outstanding job!

  52. ny4real

    April 12, 2011 at 2:50 am

    My Lil Couz… proud of u

  53. Sandra

    April 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Dear Deborah,

    U are such an inspiration. I taken down different snippets of your conversation, and will be sure to quote your wisdom and reference you when I get the chance to.

  54. Younglady

    October 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Great God, Great story!!!

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