Olowu Benjamin Damilare, 21, is the overall best graduating student of the Lagos State University (LASU) in the 2019/2020 academic session, with a 4.97 CGPA, a new record in the university. He emerged overall best out of 4,994 students who obtained their first degrees at the 25th convocation ceremony of the institution. In this interview, he shared his first-class journey to motivate others, saying he gave his all from the very beginning.
How would you describe your background?
I am from Ilara-Eredo in the Epe Local Government Area of Lagos State. My father is a lecturer and professor of Chemistry at LASU while my mother is a civil servant with the Lagos State Government. She is the Badagry divisional head at the office of the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory (LSMTL).
I had primary education at Saint Mary’s Nursery and Primary School, Ojo, after which I proceeded to its college for junior secondary school (JSS1 to JSS3). Later on, I moved to Federal Government College, Ijanikin, where I completed my secondary education and obtained my senior school leaving certificate. I got admitted into the LASU in 2015 to read Mechanical Engineering.
How did you get admission into the LASU; what was your resolution after that?
LASU wasn’t the initial plan because I did not select it as my first choice in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) application form, but at that time, the school’s post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) was open to all, so it gave opportunities to those that didn’t choose it as their first choice.
I grumbled initially, but I was compelled by my father to apply, pending the time I would get a response from the University of Ilorin. However, as at the time I was to apply, the application portal had closed, but as God would have it, my dad tried at midnight of that day, and fortunately for me, it worked. Immediately, he came to wake my sister and I, saying we should send him any picture of ours just so we could apply. And that was it. I believe it was God’s plan for me to attend LASU.
Concerning my resolution, entering into the LASU, I really wasn’t expecting anything much. I just wanted to be successful in life and I knew that the next phase of my life would be a major determinant of my measure of success, so, I just had to put in all I had. Besides, I got to know that getting a good grade would also help one in getting a scholarship to study abroad to obtain a postgraduate degree. So I just had to give it my all from the very beginning.
Can you give an aggregate of your results from 100 to 500 level?
In my first year, I had a perfect CPGA of 5.0/5.0. Moving to the 200 level, I had my first B in the first semester and then another B in the second semester, making my CGPA 4.94/5.00.
I had a perfect GPA of 5.0 throughout my 300 level and 400 levels. At the 400 level, my CGPA was already 4.97. So in the 500 level first semester, I had another B, which didn’t affect my CGPA and then my last semester was a 5.0; hence, making my cumulative grade point average a 4.97/5.00.
At what point did you discover that you were a potential first-class graduate?
Actually, it was after my first year that I got a 5.00 CGPA. I knew I was going to graduate with a first-class because I was willing to continue to press till the end, and I couldn’t even imagine myself dropping to a 2:1 after getting such a good foundational CGPA.
What was your reading culture like, and how did that help you achieve this feat?
Well, while I was in the 100 level, my dad would me up every day by 4 am to read. It wasn’t easy, but it was part of what moulded my ability to persevere and do what was necessary, no matter the situation.
My second and third year was the hardest as I was reading for long hours. Although I can’t really estimate the actual duration of reading, it was such that when I got tired of sitting, I remained in a standing position to read. After then, the workload dropped a bit, and my reading was just maybe two to three hours maximum.
Apart from reading, what did you do on campus?
Aside reading, I had other hobbies like playing video games and engaging in several sporting activities, such as pool ball, basketball, table tennis and so on. I am really a versatile person.
Aside from academics, I have a deep passion for positively impacting the people around me and society as a whole. I was an executive committee member of the Wikipedia Fan Club, a platform that equips students with the knowledge to write, create and edit the content on the largest online encyclopedia.
Writing those articles was a way of me adding to the body of knowledge at large. I also took out time to mentor students on how they could effectively study to improve their academic performances while engaging in extracurricular activities.
What was most challenging about your course of study?
The fact that the majority of what we did in school was more abstract than practical was a bit challenging. One of the resources I used to overcome this challenge was watching videos of YouTube so that I could get a practical view of what the working process and operation looked like. This, in a way, helped me to better understand the course.
Did your father’s presence on campus as a lecturer/professor influence your performance or attract favour to you?
I wouldn’t say it did or did not, what I will say is that his presence, in most cases, made his colleagues and even my lecturers to place some sort of standard I had to meet, with talks like: ‘You have to make your father proud. You know your father is a lecturer, you have to keep the flag high,’ and so on. All of these words made me focused so that I won’t bring shame to his name.
How did you find life on campus, and how did you cope with distractions?
Life on campus was full of ups and downs, especially after transiting to the Epe campus. It was hard adjusting to the environment because it was nothing like the Ojo campus. Later, I got used to it and managed to find my way around it, looking beyond its limitations and aiming to make the best of it.
For distractions, I did was to constantly remind myself of what was at stake. With that, I got back on track and kept pushing.
How did you cope during strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the COVID-19 break?
During those times, I always kept myself busy, either by taking up an online course or going to YouTube to improve my skills. During the COVID-19 lockdown was when I got introduced to the Foreign Exchange market and I dedicated all my time to the charts. So in all, I kept myself busy.
Do you agree with insinuations that it is easier to get first-class in private universities than in public tertiary institutions?
I disagree. I believe that making a first-class, regardless of the type of school, is not an easy task. I believe that anyone who is serious-minded and puts in the work required is going to achieve a first-class in any school, be it a private or public tertiary institution.
Did you partake in the entrepreneurship programme of the school? If yes, what skill did you acquire and how has it enhanced your knowledge?
Yes, I did. I took part in the agricultural programme, which equipped me with the knowledge of making the best use of land to obtain agricultural produce. I also got to learn about the importance and contribution of agriculture to the economy of the country in general.
Now that you have graduated, what next?
I plan to go for postgraduate studies because, in the long run, I plan to have a career in academia.
There is a policy that allows the LASU to employ interested first-class graduates as graduate assistants, will you consider this option?
Sure, I will consider this because I don’t know what the future holds. I also see it as an opportunity to give back to the university and impact the upcoming generation.
What tips would you give to students coming after you on how to make a first class?
I will advise them to get solid motivation on why they want to achieve a first-class degree and highlight what they must do to get it. This would really help them a lot, especially in their downtime. Also, they should know their strengths and weaknesses and improve on their strengths, while simultaneously working on their weaknesses and staying humble all the way.