As she donned her academic gown and beamed with smiles, not many guests knew what Damilola Ayorinde went through to become the best graduating student of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.
For many of those seated in the expansive OGD Hall of the university, because of the number of times the young lady mounted the rostrum to receive academic laurels, it was easy to conclude that destiny had been good and fair to her.
Life, many of them would think, had been full of roses for the Plant Science graduate.
Indeed, with a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 4.80, Damilola towered above her colleagues in all faculties and departments in the institution.
But the life story of the valedictorian is a different handle of narrative. Poverty, she claims, dealt a deadly blow on her.
Telling the story of her four-year sojourn in the university, she says her parents were so poor that she could not buy a single textbook throughout her higher education adventure.
She explains that to make up for this she got familiar with the Internet where she read relevant topics and printed out materials with money she could get from good-spirited people.
She adds, “It was by the grace of God that I was able to complete my study. My parents are so poor that I could not afford the luxury of buying a single textbook throughout my four-year study.
Tthe valedictorian, whose father, Samuel Ayorinde, is a property agent, and mother, Elizabeth, a petty trader, received no fewer than eight awards.
The honours are the Department of Plant Science and Applied Zoology prize, Vice-Chancellor’s prize, Chancellor’s prize, and the Prof. Afolabi Soyode’s prize for best graduating student.
Others include the D.B. Oguntuga Memorial prize for the best graduating student in the Faculty of Science, Dipo Dina prize for the best first-degree programme student, Dipo Dina prize for the best in the faculty of science, and the Faculty of Science prize for the overall best graduating student.
Sharing the secret of her success, the light-complexioned Damilola adds that she also relied on notes she could copy during lectures, as none of her well-to-do colleagues were willing to release their textbooks to her.
She explains, “None of my colleagues was ready to lend or give me their textbooks to read because they said I had none to give them in return, as in exchanging books. So, I had to carry my cross by going to the library, Internet and reading my notes.”
The intellectual damsel, who claims she had no time for boyfriend relationship, notes that she also likes reading alone.
She says, “I normally lock up myself in the room while reading. Though I have some distant relations staying with me, since they are younger, I made sure they never disturbed me.
“Again, I prefer to read early in the morning when the weather is still cool. I assimilate better under such a condition. I had no time for a boyfriend. I focused on my studies, knowing the kind of background I come from. I never gave room for any distraction.”
But she also faced psychological torture, especially as her young sister had to sacrifice her education for her sake.
Damilola, the first child among her three siblings, says her immediate younger sister, Tosin, had to discontinue her education in the same institution at 100 level for her to proceed with her study.
She adds, “I’ve had to eat dry garri and groundnut when there was nothing to eat. Many times I trekked to school. Till now, my parent’s house is still not completed. My convocation suit is the first I bought in life. But in all, I have reasons to thank God.
“Our parents are so poor that two of us could not afford university education at the same time. In fact, my younger sister had to drop at 100 level in 2012 for me to continue with my own study.”
Twenty-year-old Tosin also graced the convocation to share in her elder sister’s joy.
Tosin, who corroborates her sister’s story, hopes to return to the same school, after sitting for another Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations conducted by the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board Examination, some day.
She states, “I need someone who can sponsor my education. As it were, my parents cannot shoulder the responsibility now.”
Besides, Damilola links her success to God’s help and her school’s fellowship pastor, Joseph Josh-Adefisan. According to her, Josh-Adefisan contributed to the payment of her tuition, accommodation, feeding and mentorship.
Josh-Adefisan, while hailing Damilola’s courage, says, “I also graduated from this institution but I am the pastor in charge of student fellowship at the OOU main campus and some other campuses.
“I knew about Damilola’s challenges through the campus fellowship and that was how I started offering my little assistance to her.”
But since her parents are still facing hard times, is there any hope for further education? Damilola says yes, declaring that she looks forward to pursuing a master’s degree in Pharmacognosy.
Talking about other things that prepared her for the excellent performance, she reveals that she is from an extended family, where the girl-child is not known to aspire to greater heights. However, she chose to be different.
Damilola’s father attests to this. He explains that his daughter has always been an achiever from her formative years.
“She was the head girl when she was in primary school, Mastok Nursery and Primary School, Orile Agege, Lagos; and the library prefect when she was at Iganmode Grammar School, Sango-Ota, Ogun State.
“She has always been a bookworm. Even when she was much younger, when others were watching television programmes, she would be busy with books. I am not surprised at this feat.”
Damilola, who wants to impact on youths, advises other undergraduates to focus seriously on their studies.
She notes, “I look forward to becoming a graduate assistant until I secure admission to further my education. My vision in life is to occupy an enviable position in life where I will impact on as many lives as possible.”