Abiola Orimolade started out as an average student. He wrote JAMB exams four times and was unable to secure admission into his dream school: The Federal University of Technology, Akure. Graduating with a distinction from the College of Agriculture in Akure, he went on to the Obafemi Awolowo University where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Economics. He was awarded the most outstanding student in his MBA program at Sul Ross State University.
He shares his inspiring story with us.
I obtained my junior high school diploma from Dee Unique International School in Abesan Estate, Lagos, in 2000, and had my high school education at Roshallom International Secondary School in Gowon Estate, in 2003. As a child, my parents said I was very smart and hardworking, and I always wanted to do things myself. They often recall how I tried so hard to be independent at such a young age. I will say I was an average student during this phase of my life. I always admired the kids who were called out on the assembly, and celebrated in front of the whole school; I could only wish that someday my turn will come. I never won any award nor recognition. I think a lot had to do with the fact that I was a science student. I wanted to become an engineer because my dad, who is my role model, was a mechanical engineer. But I hated physics, chemistry and all that stuff.
I wrote the JAMB exam four different times. Those were some of the most challenging years of my life; the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) was my dream school, but I just couldn’t get in. My uncle in Akure advised my mom to send me to a college of agriculture in Akure instead, so that at least I would leave home. Most of my friends, till date, do not know I attended the college; it was not something I was proud of at that time, as most of my peers were getting admitted into top universities within and outside the country. I believe strongly that my two years experience at the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure (FECA) was what propelled me for academic excellence. I was told at that time that if I could graduate with an upper credit, I could easily transfer to any university of my choice. I became hungry for academic excellence. I was extremely determined, unstoppable; I wanted to go to uni real badly, and my hard work eventually paid off. In 2008, I was the second best graduating student at FECA. I surpassed the upper credit which was most students benchmark. I had a distinction, and this gave me an easy admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) to study Agricultural Economics. Till date, my matric number 9407 is fondly talked about in FECA. I am often used as an example to other students because of the huge impact I made, the lives I touched, and for my academic excellence.
OAU was a different ball game for me. It was, by far, bigger and more recognised than FUTA that refused me admission four different times. I was overwhelmed. I could not believe I was in one of Africa’s most celebrated and prestigious universities. In OAU, I wasn’t known for my academic excellence. It was so difficult for me to be the academic star I used to be. There were several outstanding students in my class, I mean the school had the best of the best. I think one of the challenges I was faced with then was the difficulty of settling down quickly. As a direct entry student, you are meant to commence your degree program with the 200 level students, so settling down took me a year.
Foray into fashion
During my period of study at the Obafemi Awolowo University, I realised I was passionate about helping people discover their potential, and I was motivated to share their stories with the public, so I formed a campus organization called BlackNBold fashion house in 2010. The group produced the Ife Runway Fashion Show, an event that displayed various fashion creatives on campus. The success was so enormous that few years later we had to create a platform that would accommodate more universities and more creatives, and this led to the Nigerian Student Fashion And Design Week, the first visible event platform in Nigeria for discovering new fashion talents.
I am also the publisher of BlackNBold Magazine, a Nigerian/UK based black publication which has had the likes of Seyi Shay, Falz, Eva Alordiah, Yvonne Aiyegbeni, Feyisola Adeyemi and Tola Onigbanjo as covers. In 2016, BlackNBold magazine won the BEFFTA UK Magazine of the year award, being one of its biggest recognition till date.
Working in Lagos
I was a typical example of a true Lagos hustler, despite how famous our shows and magazines were, I had no car, and would jump from bus to bus, or sometimes my friends would give me rides to events. Thanks to Kola, one of the guys on my team, he would always drive me to event. And thank God for Marcus and Obinna who later bought their cars. People thought I was making lots of money—well I was quite good at packaging—but there were times when I had no cash on me for days. But I never gave up. Things started to change when Bukky Taylor referred me to meet with Chris Oputa, the owner of Studio 24, at that time, Chris Oputa was just starting a new company called Style Squad and Bukky felt I was going to be a good manager for his company. I excelled at Style Squad and my pay was good enough for me to enjoy a moderate lifestyle. I used most of my salary to pay for NSFDW outstandings, and also to process my admission to the United States. I had my eyes on the goal. I remember very well when my colleague at Studio 24 asked me what I had been spending my salary on because they couldn’t see any sign that I was actually earning an income. They were right. I always told them not to worry, that one day they would know where all the money has been going to.
More money, higher education, greater impact
My first degree was in Agricultural Economics, but I had to do that just to get into the university. Upon graduation, I realized I needed some serious professional background training in business and management in order to take my business to the next level I was managing my company only out of passion. The business side was missing. So I believed that an MBA was what I needed. Some people will say you learn on the job, but that didn’t really work so well for me. And I didn’t choose a business school in Nigeria because I wanted the international exposure and experience. I wanted a platform that would help take my business to the international scene, so I made up my mind that I was going to go to the best country. Just last year I was able to seal a partnership with African Fashion Week Houston. This partnership gave one of our prize winners at Nigerian Student Fashion And Design Week the opportunity to showcase her collection in Houston last year.
Arriving in Texas
I gained admission into the MBA degree program at Sul Ross State University for the spring semester of 2018. I arrived in Houston on the 1st of January 2018. That wasn’t my first time abroad, but that was my first time in the United States of America. I was shocked at how cold it was, and overwhelmed with the road network in Houston. I took a 12-hour train ride to Alpine, a small town in Texas where my new home would be for the next two years. Alpine was totally different from Houston. It was more of a beautiful small village, mostly dominated by Hispanics and Whites. But this time around, I settled down quickly.
During my first few days at Sul Ross State University, I was a bit surprised at a couple of things. One was the close relationship a lot of the students had with their professors. In fact, some of them were called by their first names. Students shook hands with their professors, ate and dined with them! These were things I could never have tried in Ife. I was also surprised by the way the students dressed to classes, especially the ladies. I saw different sizes, colours and shapes of thighs. Another shock was that there wasn’t any African time there. Students were always very early to classes. It took me a whole year to adapt to that.
Setting the bar
Anyone who graduates from Obafemi Awolowo University can easily relate to how much we study, and how much we were impacted. OAU taught me how to read. So I came here with that drive and energy. I wanted to leave a mark at Sul Ross. I wanted to be celebrated, and I wanted to be a good ambassador of my home country. The close relationship we had with the professors was really helpful, as it enabled me to have a one on one interaction that helped my academic performance. The system here is such that you have all the resources at your finger tip in order to excel, and I made the best use of them. After the first semester, I discovered I had all As in my courses, and I was like okay let’s do this. God has been very faithful to me. The educational environment was very conducive for learning, so I was able to assimilate very quickly. The only course that gave me a tough time was one of the Economics courses. It was a very technical and brain tasking class. I would wake up at the middle of the night to study and practice. I eventually had a 90 on the dot.
Scholarships and awards
My first scholarship was the President Initiative Scholarship. I received that in 2018. The second was the Business Administrative International Scholarship. I received that a few months ago. The scholarship is given to distinguished students in Business Administration. I was also inducted in April 2019, into the Delta Mu Delta (Sul Ross chapter), an international honour society that recognises outstanding academic excellence in Baccalaureate, Masters, and Doctorate degree business administration programs at Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)-accredited schools. It was founded November 18, 1913, by the Dean of Harvard University and four professors from Yale University and New York University. I was the second Nigerian student in the history of the university to be inducted into the society. I believe strongly that having a GPA of 4.0 out of a 4.0 will definitely open doors for me both home and abroad.
And if I can do it, then you can too
To readers still in high school, college, or in the university, always remember this: if you have a dream, give it all that you have got. Don’t ever be discouraged by the moment nor the vicissitude of things. Keep your eye on the goal; don’t step on other people’s toes just to climb the ladder. And when you rise, don’t forget to pull people up, too. A lot of people have this misconception about offerings and tithes, they focus so much on giving to the churches alone, they forget about their hungry neighbors, friends and families. Touch the lives of people around you and watch how the almighty Lord will bless you in return. And when you help, don’t do so with the intention of getting back.
If you want to be part of this inspiring and amazing feature or if you know someone who is part of the Class of 2019 who should be featured here, please send an email to features(at)bellanaija(dot)com. We look forward to reading from you and sharing your academic excellence.