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“I learned three things at Air Force (Secondary School) that have served me well in the US. I learned discipline, adaptability and resilience. These attributes helped me a lot…” – Emmanuel Ohuabunwa.
Emmanuel Ohuabunwa on graduation day at Johns Hopkins University. Photo:
From the world over, Nigerians in the Diaspora have been charting new courses and doing great things, making and breaking records. Recently, an intelligent young man from Arochukwu in Abia State in Eastern Nigeria added his name to that prestigious list of people who have done the country proud away from home. Meet Emmanuel Ohuabunwa, a 22-year-old man who made history at John Hopkins University, in the United States of America. On May 24, this year, he became the first black man to graduate from the university with the highest honours. He bagged a degree in Neurosciences finishing strong at the top of his class with a Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of 4.0. Ohuabunwa was born in Okota, Lagos, Nigeria and attended Lilly Fields Primary School, Lagos. After his junior secondary school education, at Air Force Comprehensive School Ibadan, his parents moved the whole family to the US. Rather than buckle under the pressure of bullying, peer pressure, and racial prejudice, Ohuabunwa said he developed a “thick skin”, turning his adversity into a surmountable challenge with a determination and resilience quite rare in a child that young. ‘…when I got to the US, I was enrolled with my age mates, which meant at 13, I was in middle school. I went to Fondren Middle School, which was in the middle of the ghetto. That was one of the darkest years for me because I encountered a lot of peer pressure. Some of the students, ignorant about Africa, bullied me and called me names such as ‘African booty scratcher’ because to them, Africans were dirty and scratched their butts all the time. ‘Some asked me if I lived in mud huts and ate faeces for breakfast. I remember one day, when I was walking to the school bus, a boy came from behind and punched me in the face, called me an African and walked away. It took everything in me not to retaliate. I knew that God had put me in the U.S for a purpose and it did not involve fighting or selling drugs or doing the wrong things. ‘My experience during that year gave me a thick skin. I learned to stand for what I thought was right even when the opposition seemed insurmountable. I also learned to look at the positive in all situations. Even though these kids were bullying me, I was still gaining an opportunity to school in America and nothing would stop me from making the best of this opportunity.’ Ohuabunwa took the higher road, refusing to blame those who oppressed him saying, …‘I don’t blame those kids because they were ignorant about Africa. All they knew about us was the stuff they had watched on TV or documentaries…I don’t blame them for it because it is a problem with stereotypes.’ Rather, he focused on his studies and was always coming top in his class. After he completed his middle school education, he passed the entrance examination to DeBakey High School for Health Professions. By the second year of high school, after interacting with doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, he discovered that the more he learned about medicine, the more he knew it was a divine call for him to pursue. He had a dream to attend the best university in the US and, worried that his parents might not be able to sponsor him, Ohuabunwa decided to pay the price of a big dream. He worked very hard at his studies that when the result of the PSAT came, he performed so well, he won the National Achievement Scholar. During his graduation ceremony at DeBakey, he also won the Award for the Most Outstanding Senior Young Man. But his breakthrough came when he won the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation full scholarship to any university of his choice. He worked hard again and gained admission to Johns Hopkins University to study Neurosciences. Ohuabunwa said he studied Neuroscience, because he was fascinated with the brain, its control of our behaviours. He said: ‘I also minored in Psychology because I wanted to understand disorders in the psyche. What causes bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. I did not just want to label them as crazy but to understand what causes these conditions and how we can treat them.’ For his efforts and sterling results, Ohuabunwa gained admission into evey medical school he applied to including Yale, Harvard, Cornell and Johns Hopkins. He finally settled for a full scholarship to Yale University to pursue a degree in medicine. Besides, he has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society, a prestigious academic honour society that features membership of 17 US Presidents, 37 US Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel Prize winners. Ohuabunwa plans to come back to Nigeria after the completion of his programme. ‘I am absolutely interested in the health care policy decisions in Nigeria. Because there are many changes that need to occur, I will not rule out the possibility of coming back after my studies, in order to join hands with the leaders to make these changes possible.’ Written with reports from Punch.

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This article was first published on 27th June 2012 and updated on June 28th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

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