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I learnt how to have fun and still pass exams – Okesanya, Unilag second best graduate

The second best graduate of the University of Lagos in the 2014/2015 academic session, Temitope Okesanya, 21, graduated from the Department of Petroleum and Gas Engineering with a 4.93 CGPA. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he talks about his achievement

Would it be right to assume that your convocation day was your most memorable moment?

Yes, my happiest moment was at the convocation ceremony, when my name was being called for about four awards. Apart from being the second best in the entire school, I received awards for being the best in the Faculty of Engineering, best in the Sciences and my department. The atmosphere was terrific, the crowd was cheering and my family was very happy and proud of me. One of the most eventful moments was when they announced my name as the overall best graduating student in the sciences and I got a standing ovation from my colleagues. I don’t think I would ever forget that day.

When you found out you were the second best graduate, how did you receive the news or did you see it coming?

I was actually surprised, because I thought someone in the school would have finished with a higher CGPA. A part of me was rather optimistic that I could finish as the second overall because we all knew Ayodele Dada was the best, but then, I knew UNILAG students are very intelligent and hardworking, so I thought  someone might have finished with something higher than 4.93, which created doubts in my mind. But when someone in the senate building gave me the good news, I was so excited, such that I almost jumped on the person.

You must have had ‘A’s in almost all your courses to arrive at that CGPA. Do you still remember your GPAs?

Yes I do actually. It is easy for me to remember because I had 5.00 in almost all my semesters, safe for just two semesters; I think I had just two B’s all through, both in my second year. Before I got into school, it was already in my plan to graduate with a first class because I had always aimed for excellence, coupled with the fact that I didn’t want to let a lot of people down, especially my family members and my secondary school principal, Dr. Olufowobi, who said I would have no excuse not to finish with a first class.  They all had high expectations and I’m glad I didn’t disappoint them.

How easy was it?

Honestly, in my own opinion, having a first class is not as complicated as the society makes it; it’s just proper hard work, effective time planning and making sacrifices. It was not easy though; it involved a lot of sleepless nights, group study and sacrificing a lot for the sake of studying. It’s good when you know what works for you. My motto since high school has been, ‘do not let the notes pile up.’ It meant studying every day after class to make sure it sticks gradually before exams or tests. It is better for students to imbibe this habit than doing a crash study one week to an exam or test. It takes real dedication to revise and go through what your lecturer has taught you each day, but it was worth it. During my 500 Level first semester, I practically did not have up to five hours of sleep from Sunday to Friday. I did overnight study all week; from my study table, to the bathroom and to the exam hall and back to my study table, with a brief nap on the study table. I had a 5.00 grade point that semester. The end always justifies the means.

Some people would expect that to have a 4.93 CGPA, you must have read all your life. What was it like?

I was not a total bookworm. Although people thought I was. My study pattern was not time specific, but I made sure my notes didn’t pile up. I studied every time necessary and I wasn’t a library person. In fact, I did not enter university library until my fourth year and it was to meet someone there. On the average, I slept for an average of four to five hours daily because one needs to rest well to function optimally. Also, I believe all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so I usually play video games, especially FIFA, and I watched movies to relax. I used to play FIFA on PlayStation with my roommate, Uchenna Ogunka, who also had a first class in mechanical engineering. Whenever people visited and saw us playing FIFA on our PS, they would ask how we were passing our exams. The truth is that we had learnt the secret of how to have fun and still pass exams, which is simple; effective time management. I had time for social activities, but the priority was my book and fellowship activities. Some people even argue that involving yourself in extracurricular activities can affect your grades; this is not entirely true. It depends on the person’s discipline and time management skill. I would advise undergraduates to keep a low profile when they are new in school and focus on building their GPAs before involving themselves fully in any activity. Until convocation day, some people didn’t believe my grade because they saw me as being very social. In fact, someone exclaimed when he saw my picture on the convocation brochure, “Tope Teflon! So you know book like this?!! It’s a lie!!!” I was able to balance it.

Have you always led your class in your previous schools?

I was the best in my primary and secondary schools. I won some awards and even finished tops in an external competition in my school and I was the best student (Valedictorian) in my secondary school; Caleb International College, Lekki. I had distinctions in all the papers I sat for in my West African Senior School Certificate Examination and I also passed my National Examination Council exam at one sitting. When I wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, I had 273. I was not too pleased initially because I aimed at getting over 300, but when I heard the scores of other people, I became grateful for my own score. I went for one year foundation diploma programme, where I finished with 4.95 CGPA, the highest in engineering for my set and I remember I had only one B. After that, I came into degree programme through Direct Entry in 2011.

Were there times your parents rewarded you for good performance?

Yes actually! Growing up in my house, there was a specific amount of money you get for every A you have in a subject each term. It served as a motivation especially when you want to buy something. My dad had to reduce the amount for mine because I was literally coming home with all A’s all the time.

Would you say you are a genius or it was just hard work?

I would not call myself a genius. I was not the brightest kid while growing up; I never won awards neither was I in the top 10 or 15 in the class. I was just an average kid who loved playing. But my parents felt I would do better if I worked hard and read my book. My mum insisted and I had no choice. When in my primary five I started reading, I realised that having a good grade is not as difficult as it seems; it’s just by hard work and determination. Later on, I drove myself. No matter how smart you are, there must be an input to achieve your desired result, just that the input varies from one individual to another based on intellectual strength.

What attracted you to engineering?

I come from a family of engineers; almost everyone in my family studied engineering, apart from my mother and my first sister who is a medical doctor. Although my parents did not consciously put pressure on me to study engineering, there is a way your environment influences your decisions. I already fell in love with engineering because I saw its versatility. So, engineering has always been my dream course and my affinity for petroleum production process and the facilities influenced my choice of the course.

Many people love your course but some see it as difficult. How easy was it?

Yes, people love the course because they think it is very lucrative. The truth is that, though Petroleum and Gas Engineering is actually a very interesting course, it is extremely intellectually demanding. One needs impeccable understanding of the subject matter in order to successfully thrive in the course because you would generally be solving exercises based on real world oil and gas data and problems.

Where would you like to work?

Although I am not consciously particular about any place I want to work, my dream company has always been Saudi Aramco. I want to work on their Ghawar field (largest oilfield in the world) for a while in my career before I retire. I had an ambition to develop my knowledge and skill in all facets of petroleum engineering, not just to improve my job prospects but also to impact younger generations by returning to the academia and rise to become a professor later lecturing in a university. I have come to love the course daily and still have no regret choosing it. However, my short-term goal is to successfully complete my master’s programme by the year 2018.

Were you in a relationship in school?

No, I was not. Funny enough, I had a lot of female friends but I never dated any one of them. I tried not to entangle myself in relationships; I just believe I would not be able to give the required time, dedication, care, priority, etc. because of my other academic and religious commitments, so I wouldn’t hurt the person on a long run.

What would be your advice to students?

There is no truth in the saying that ‘First class is meant for some select few,’ and there are no hard and fast rules to achieving a first class, but there are basic principles for achieving a first class. I believe being a first class student starts from the mind. You have to dream it, want it, consciously work towards achieving it and move with friends with similar goals. I also advise young students to apply for internship jobs every summer holiday they have. Even though I had a couple of industry experience while in school, I would have preferred it if I had done more. It goes a long way to help.


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