To rank the number one student amidst thousands of students across thirty different departments in a top-ranking University of technology in Nigeria is not an easy feat. You know what I mean, right?
Here is Michael, who finished as the overall best graduating student in the entire University.
On two occasions, he miraculously overcame death and came back to life; and if you think financial challenges are enough reason to fail in life, you are wrong.
Enjoy this interview with Michael and don’t forget to share with others who might be needing one form of encouragement or the other in their academic journey.
1. YOUR FULL NAME?
Okpara, Michael Obinna
2. COURSE STUDIED, GRADUATION YEAR AND GRADUATING CGPA?
I studied Biochemistry, 2014 Academic Set, C.G.P.A. of 4.84
3. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT COURSE OF YOURS?
My love for Life Sciences drove me to choose Biochemistry for my first degree.
4. CAN YOU PLEASE SHARE ANY DIFFICULTY OR HURDLE YOU FACED WHILE BEING A STUDENT AND HOW YOU OVERCAME?
My most challenging moment was in my first year when I struggled financially. Then, I was unable to afford a room for myself and had to stay with some friends as a “squatter” for over a year. Studying under this condition was very difficult but there was nothing I could do. I only ate what was available and not what was desirable because my budget was very limited. But in my second year, I applied for the Federal Government Scholarship for Undergraduate studies, sat for the examination and was awarded the scholarship. With this scholarship, I could pay my tuition, afford accommodation, buy most of the items I needed for my studies, and eat what I desired.
5. WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MISSION/VISION STATEMENT?
My mission/vision is to be better than I was.
6. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO SUCCESS?
Knowing that being a failure is the only other option is the driving force behind my quest to always attain success.
7. WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES AND DISLIKES?
I love to play football. Though I am a terrible singer, I love listening to good music. I dislike people who live a fake life.
8. WERE YOU IN A LOVE RELATIONSHIP WHILE IN SCHOOL? IF YES, HOW DID YOU COMBINE IT WITH YOUR ACADEMICS WITHOUT ONE AFFECTING THE OTHER? IF NO, WHY?
Yes, I was in a love relationship while in school. Maybe being in a long-distance relationship made it easier for me to put each of them in their rightful place. We would talk and chat every day, catch up on each other’s activities for the day and only see each other during vacations.
9. DID YOU SEE YOURSELF BECOMING THE BEST STUDENT A FEW YEARS BACK AND WHY?
For two reasons, I never thought I would become the best graduating student. Firstly, the financial challenge I faced in my first year limited me in some ways. Secondly, while I could only make 8A’s and a B (in a 4-unit course) in my first semester, a few students made straight A’s. So, I felt I should just focus on graduating with a first class.
10. HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS OF BECOMING THE BEST STUDENT?
Until I got to my final year, I never worked towards becoming the best graduating student. For me, if my CGPA did not drop below what it was the previous semester, I was satisfied. Albeit, the target was to always perform better than my previous result.
11. WAS THERE ANY TIME YOU FAILED OR ANYTIME YOU WERE NOT HAPPY WITH YOUR GRADES? CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
There was never a time I failed. But there were times I was not happy with my grades. There were some semesters when I would have made straight A’s but would have one B among the A’s. I used to be unhappy about this and could spend a few days taking a retrospective look at the situation and trying to figure out what I did not do right.
12. HOW DID YOU GET OVER IT?
Knowing that there is a new semester and another opportunity for me usually made it easy to forget about it and forge ahead.
13. HAVE YOU HAD ANY CHALLENGE WITH A LECTURER IN THE PAST? HOW DID YOU SCALE THROUGH?
I don’t remember having any challenge with a lecturer. I always did my best to remain anonymous during lectures.
14. WOULD YOU ADVISE STUDENTS TO COMBINE ACADEMICS WITH OTHER ACTIVITIES WHILE ON CAMPUS? WHY?
YES. Personally, I believe that a tertiary institution is not just a place for academics but also a place where young and vibrant minds are exposed to other aspects of life. Combining academics with other relevant activities could provide students with certain experiences which can give them a comparative advantage over those who stick to only academics when they find themselves in the labour market. Being able to combine academics with some relevant activities while in school could make one a strong “competitor” in the “real world”.
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15. WOULD YOU SAY YOU HAD MORE FRIENDS OR LOST MORE FRIENDS BECAUSE OF YOUR GOALS AND VALUES? KINDLY EXPLAIN.
I had more friends because of my goals and values. It is only natural to find more students who want to make good grades in school than those who do not care about their grades. When the students who want to make good grades see that your grades are good enough, they want to get acquainted with you, learn how you do it and hope that their grades get better.
16. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A RECIPIENT OF ANY SCHOLARSHIP? HOW DID YOU APPLY FOR IT?
Yes, I have been a recipient of some scholarships. Whenever I come across a scholarship opportunity, usually via notifications by some websites, I go through the criteria for application. If I meet them, then I ensure I prepare all the required documentation and essays by following the awarders guidelines. I always had it in mind that there were equally good, if not better, students who were also applying for the same scholarship, hence I must make my application distinct.
17. IS THERE ANY HABIT YOU ARE WORKING HARD TO BREAK AND WHAT ARE THE MEASURES YOU ARE TAKING TO BREAK IT?
None comes to mind.
18. DURING YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DAYS, WAS THERE A MISTAKE YOU MADE AND WISHED YOU COULD UNDO?
I paid so much attention to academics and my social life was almost not there. I wouldn’t call that a mistake because, in the end, there was something to show for the much attention I paid to academics.
19. DURING YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DAYS, WAS THERE SOMETHING YOU COULDN’T DO BUT WISHED YOU DID?
There is nothing I wish I could have done while in school. It was my decision from day 1 not to venture into school politics, social activities and other activities that could compete with my time for academics.
20. HAS YOUR CHOICE OF FRIENDS INFLUENCED YOUR SUCCESS IN ANY WAY? HOW?
To an extent, yes. I had friends who also pursued their academic career with some level of seriousness, so it became easy to flow with them.
Albeit, I hardly get influenced by friends. Whatever I find myself engaging in is because I have a self-conviction that I must do that and not because I have some friends who influenced my decision.
21. HAS YOUR STRUCTURE OF HOME AND FAMILY INFLUENCED YOUR SUCCESS IN ANY WAY? HOW?
Yes, they influenced me in some ways. I have siblings who did well in school and for me, the only way to go was to follow in their footsteps.
22. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE PEOPLE WITH A POOR CHOICE OF FRIENDS AND PEOPLE WHO COME FROM UNHEALTHY HOMES?
The first thing to do is to discover yourself. The moment you are convinced you know what you want to be, then you can set out to choose the right friends. Like they say, “show me your friends, and I will tell you who you are”.
With the family, it becomes dicey because we do not have the privilege to choose our respective families; but that should not be an excuse for failing to reach our potentials. Not every successful person was raised in a “healthy” home.
Break loose from the shackles of not having a healthy home, discover yourself, set some targets and work hard to meet those targets. And at every point in time, whether good or bad, never forget to give thanks to God.
23. CAN YOU SHARE A TESTIMONY THAT SHOWED VIVIDLY THAT GOD WAS INVOLVED IN YOUR SUCCESS?
On two separate occasions, I have had near-death experiences. In the first case, God used my mother to save me from some attacks which came at ungodly hours of the night.
In the second instance, God sent an angel – in the form of a doctor – to me to administer an antidote to a drug which had claimed the lives of some patients in the hospital. It was very late at night and I was reacting badly to a new antimalarial drug which was prescribed by a physician.
Due to my reaction to the antimalarial drug, she had to prescribe some drugs which were supposed to act as antidotes. Unfortunately, none of these antidotes could be found in any of the big pharmacies in Lagos and I think it was almost 12 midnight.
I felt I was not going to see the dawn of the day anymore. While I was battling with the reaction and counting down to my last breath, an old doctor walked into my ward to say hi to the nurse on duty. While they were still exchanging pleasantries, he noticed how I was battling hard to breathe.
After he was brought up to speed, he asked the nurse to go get a drug from the hospital’s pharmacy. Seconds after I received the injection, I slept off. I woke the next day, feeling better and could breathe without any struggle.
On both occasions, I felt I would not have witnessed the dawn of a new day but God had other plans. If I had died on any of these occasions, I would not have been the best graduating student as they happened years before I gained admission to study Biochemistry.
24. WHO DO YOU SEE YOURSELF BECOMING IN THE NEAREST FUTURE AND HOW ARE YOU WORKING TOWARDS THAT?
I usually don’t think about this. All I do is to always strive hard to be better than I was yesterday.
25. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE STUDENTS WHO WISH TO BE HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL?
Study hard like your life depends on it and pray hard like that is your only option. Many students like to do their assignments and study when it is very close to submission time or test/exam time.
This is never the best because one ends up writing the assignments or studying under intense pressure, hence leaving room for so many omissions and errors.
So, I think it is best to always start working on assignments the moment they are given to you even if the submission is a month away. And the same goes for prepping for tests/exams.
26. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE NIGERIAN STUDENTS, NIGERIAN LECTURERS AND NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES?
To the students, you should treat your studies with all seriousness because you may never get a second chance to right your wrongs once you pass that stage.
To the lecturers, the best gift you can give your students is to provide them with detailed information about the course they are offering.
Universities – an unending improvement in the learning infrastructures should be provided for both the lecturers and students. This will go a long way in ensuring that Nigerian universities will rank high among other universities in the world.
27. ANY ADVICE TO GIVE TO A STUDENT WHO HAS FAILED SEVERALLY AND ABOUT TO GIVE UP?
No one ever achieved success without making some adjustments after failing, and no one ever succeeded by giving up.
The difference between a successful person and a failure is that a successful person always tries again after failing while a failure simply gives up. So, each time you fail, make some adjustments, then try again.
28. WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS?
Success, for me, means meeting your target.