My 4.49 Grade Point Average; $200,000 Graduate Scholarships; and the Advantage of a Disadvantage

“…And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt…” Genesis 37:28

. . .

“They have posted (released) our final year results” a friend told me in a very, very trepid (but rather familiar) tone. I had to contend with the ever epileptic internet connection to check my results. “Did I make it, Did I not?” I had thought, with my heart palpitating. Finally the internet ‘conceded’, and my eyes got fixated on a 4.49 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) on my computer screen, my breath ceded for a second. “4.49?! How did this shit happen?” I thought loudly. I have never been so perturbed my entire life. Just some few days ago, I was quite confident of a first class CGPA.

A quick probe finally led out the facts: few months prior, a friend had helped to submit an assignment for one of the classes I offered in my last semester at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Nigeria. Unfortunately – or rather not – the assignment was submitted with an incorrect matriculation [identification] number. Because of this peccadillo, the 5 marks allocated for the assignment (which I still believe I am totally entitled to) was not added to my class grade; as such, I ended up with a 67B in the class (which led to a 4.49 CGPA). Had my 5 marks been added, it would been a 72A, with the much anticipated First class honors.

Well, this got really messed up by the ridiculous obstinacy of a university professor in my department, who insisted that  I was not a first class material and a 4.49 cGPA was my rightful spot. I was forlorn, to say the least. Finally, my only chance of graduating with a first class honors from OAU slid off right in front of my face.

If you are not familiar with the Nigerian Grade Point Average system used in most varsities, this is how it works: If you are fortunate to garner a GPA from 4.50-5.00, that’s a first class honors. With a 3.50-4.49 cGPA, then you land yourself in a second class upper division.

In a country replete with unemployment, and deplorable investments in science jobs, trust me on this one: a 4.49 cGPA is the last thing you had wish for.

Not surprising, looking back at my struggles at OAU, I developed a very strong aversion towards the decaying educational system. (Which I believe is characteristic of most tertiary institutions in Nigeria, after all, OAU has constantly ranked one of the very best)

Here is why: I will fail woefully, if I try to count the number of lectures I received while standing on my feet because of the lack of available seats in a university lecture hall; or the number of candles I used up for my readings because of the epileptic power supply. In fact, the latter would be an impossible challenge.

I once told some of my American friends that I read with candles virtually throughout college, the utter shock their countenance posited was one I will always remember. This is very sad, because to some of us, we have adjusted to this horrible norm, which reminds of the popular Fela Kuti song: Suffering and Smiling.

That’s why I was critical about the argument that a person submitting an assignment for me was lack of academic integrity, after all, I did the assignment myself. On the contrary, considering the gross ineptitude of university management in Nigeria. Our ‘leaders’ should be reprimanded for any poor academic performance, certainly not otherwise.

. . .

As I was called upon to receive the best graduating student’s prize for the Department of Microbiology in 2012 (we were supposed to graduate in 2010/2011 session, but they couldn’t even keep us in school); I had a very rare ambivalent feeling: I was gleeful – my achievement was one that I am totally proud of – at the same time, irked: I felt cheated. Not only because of the first class honors I earned (but lost), but because of the entire educational system was a colossal debacle.

There and then I promised not to enslave myself in an educational system that almost frustrate effort; more often than not, fail to reward hard work; and needless to say, tainted by some mentally challenged university professors that should have lost their jobs long before we are even born.

2

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”

Little did I know that a 4.49 GPA could be a potential advantage, an advantage of a disadvantage. Soon after my final exams, I headed to the National Youth Service Corp (an obligatory service to the Nigerian government immediately after college education),  harmed with little information, I began to delve for graduate schools abroad. I have believed that my success will be the best revenge, and that I had no options except for the very best.

Several months went by and I constantly spent half of my allawe (the monthly stipend the government pays NYSC youths) on internet modems to surf the internet so I can garner as much information as I needed on graduate schools. Even though the internet supply was an epileptic one, I wouldn’t give in. Just within few weeks, I had sent over 200 emails to graduate schools abroad enquiring about educational opportunities and scholarships.

In short, I have never been so focused!   I did all the required exams, and in the end I applied to more than 10 graduate schools abroad. A friend once told me “that was way too much effort Bif”. To which I replied “I think I should have done more, you needed to have  graduated with a 4.49 cGPA to think the way I do”.

Praying for the best and expecting the worse, I had saved some money doing my NYSC to repeat the process again, the next year. And I am damn sure I wouldn’t be hesitant to do it the third time even if I failed the second attempt.

As God will have it, it went through during the first attempt. I got admissions in all the schools I applied except one; with scholarships from the University of Newcastle and The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington DC. Shortly after my NYSC I left for Washington, DC.

Few months ago, I graduated with a MS degree in Biotechnology from CUA with a 3.95 CGPA, (4.0 scale) an almost perfect cGPA; a wonderful research in the field of functional yeast genomics with Dr. John Choy; and Doctorate scholarships from 4 graduate schools!

Permit me to put on my economist cloak, and put a value on all the graduate scholarships I have been offered since my graduation from OAU: it will be well over $200,000.

These are the lessons learnt:

One, In Malcom Gladwell’s words: “We have … a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is … We think of some things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.” This is the apt pith of this piece. My 4.49 cGPA left me stronger! No doubts.

Two, someone opinion about you doesn’t have to be your reality. 

In conclusion, taking glory for all the nice things that had happened would be fatuous and almost suicidal. After I lost the 4.49 ‘battle’ at OAU, several professors, families and friend stood by me, and gave very inspiring messages. Their words and support kept me going.

More important, is the story of a man who think he can do it alone and found himself swimming in a big ocean against the tides. Soon enough he drowned. He forgot that when God is on your side the tides moves in your direction.

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