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 BellaNaija.com
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.
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.