I visited the library only two or three times throughout my stay in school –Humanities BGS

Victoria Popoola, UNILAG 2nd Best Graduating Student
Philip Blessing Tarimoboere, Okoh Chidinma Ruth

From the bottom half of her class to a position of Academic excellence, Victoria Popoola, the Best humanities graduate and second best graduating student, reveals her academic journey and her hopes for the future.

“I haven’t actually said this out loud before but I threw the result away. I mean, it is definitely somewhere in that swampy area.” She pauses, reflecting on that period in her life.

She continued with a resigned smile on her face. “The last time I saw my result, I was collecting prizes and now 31st out of 40. That’s like the last 25% of the group.”

My co-reporter and I didn’t know exactly what to expect when we were told that we would be interviewing Victoria but since we had interviewed several other scholars of the University of Lagos, including the best graduating students from the last session, we had a vague idea of what the scholars looked and spoke like.

We expected to find a young woman who would tell us of her struggle of trying to maintain a first class and who had been surprised that they had clinched the title of the second best graduating student. Like some of those we had previously interviewed, we expected her to be stiff and formal in her speech while she told us of her countless hours in the Library and in the fellowship but Victoria was one of the few scholars who surprised us.

Victoria, dressed in a bright yellow top and dark blue jeans, leaned against the low walls of the FSS Relaxation center. Other than the glasses on the bridge of her nose, there was no other physical indicator that could give away the fact that she was the BGS of the humanities department.

The witty graduate warmly related her story, chipping in a few scenarios that had shaped her into who she is today.  “Well, I was kind of expecting it. It wasn’t really a surprise but it is exciting all the same. And my mom of course, she was, I think, she is more excited about it than I am.”

THE BACKGROUND – “Basic education, ISL”

So, how does one go from the last 25 percentile of the class to the 2nd best graduating student in the university of Lagos? A lot of self-motivation and hard work from both of her parents. The Economics graduate divulged the story that leads to her gradual rise to academic excellence.

Her basic Education was a blast of academic excellence for her as she often clinched the first position. She was admitted into International School, University of Lagos (ISL) but on admission into ISL, she fell into a lazy routine of Attending Classes, Eating and sleeping. She thought she would ride on the same wave of excellence as before but shocked and dazed, were the words she used to describe the effect her first term result. She had emerged 31st out of a class of 40 students.

“I knew it was just laziness,” She explained. She had spent the greater half of the term falling behind on copying her notes. She made a comparison of secondary school dictation to primary school note taking. “I mean, I hated writing notes because in primary school, they would just write it on the board and you would copy but this time they’re dictating and you’re like ‘Hold on, Calm down, Slow down’ but then nobody is waiting for you.”

It was not just her note-taking skills that suffered. She would leave her notes incomplete. Reading for examination and tests were never a priority. Flogging her did not lead to any positive action concerning her assignment either. The same attitude followed her to the exam halls. “I don’t know how I even managed to go into the exam hall with an empty head.”

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Her parents wielded the proverbial rod. We didn’t miss the emphasize she placed on the word, flogged, as she described what brought about the turnaround in her academic life. She took the 30th position in the second term result.

She went upwards from there and when it came to time for her to choose her department, she chose science over art, even though she felt her natural abilities were better suited for the humanities. She describes her performance in the humanities as not too bad because her first result in that class earned her the 8th position. For her, the crowning glory of these was when she earned six A’s in her WAEC examination.

POST SECONDARY SCHOOL LIFE “between Mathematics and Economics”

“I didn’t do post UTME because I wasn’t up to sixteen. So I just did Diploma and I did economics from science class which is strange.”

Victoria stated that she had originally wanted to study Mathematics. After her maths failure in Jss1, her father, a teacher, began to tutor her. A small smile plays on her lips as she describes what the tutoring sessions were like. “The kind of teaching where you teach for one hour and go and buy amala to ginger you and after another thirty minutes, a bottle of coke, just to keep your mind there. I started liking maths. I was feeling like a maths guru and I was like, I want to study maths but he said it is not really applicable in Nigeria.

She chose Economics instead. On hearing that she had to take Geography and Government as well, she felt the old fear of failure creeping it. She battled through JUPEB and emerged as the Overall Best in Geography. Excitement lights up her beady brown eyes as she describes how wowed she was to receive such an award.

She joked about how she had received a call about the award. She left her house, dressed to win an award. While she received her plaque, she waited for the money but all she got were thanks and a handshake. 

THE REAL JOURNEY “from class hermit to BGS”

“I’m usually very quiet so nobody really knew me,” Victoria describes herself as a sort of class hermit that would get up and leave the class as soon as the lecture ended. Despite this, she made several friends between her JUPEB lessons and 200 level session. She describes herself as the odd one in her circle of friends. “I was the odd one out because I was the tallest and I was also the one who didn't have any 'oyin' in her name, I mean there was Oyinda, Doyin, Moyin and me, Victoria.”

200 level first semester was the first time that she got a 5.0. After that, strangers would call her and tell her what she scored in her exams before she even saw the results. The first semester 300 level result put a dent in the race care to graduating with a 5.0. She got a B and sighed at how she had thought she would graduate with a 5.0. The following semester, she was blessed with a 5.0 but the first semester of 400 level was the worst yet. “I almost cried. I said to myself, is this the end of my dreams? But I knew I was going to get at least BGS in Economics department so that was my consolation.”

While she wasn’t surprised by the fact that she is the best humanities student, she feels like the position of the BGS Economics department was just grace. “I know for a fact that I wasn’t the smartest in class. I mean, I can count at least 10 people who are like bosses. I look up to them. I know people who read 'fire'. Like they read a lot. Some would even sleep in the library and I'll just look at them and be like 'God when'. Like when would I get to those level?”

HER STUDY PATTERN “not a fan of libraries and overnights”

Victoria does not like to be called a scholar. She describes her reading process as one that affords her ample time to take breaks in between. She begins her serious studying about a month to exams. She usually makes plan to read for an hour during this period but most times, after thirty minutes, she finds her mind straying back to the movie she had been watching before her study period. About two weeks to exams, she ramps up her study time to four hours per day.

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“Well, it was kind of easier for me because I understood my reading pattern. I don’t do overnight.” She declared smiling. The few times she had tried to read overnight at FSS had ended with her falling asleep.

The library was another building that saw less of Victoria. She mentioned that throughout her stay in the school, she visited the library only three times and two of those times were for non-academic purposes.

Victoria with her friends

Her bed is the only library she uses. Overnight reading held on her hostel bed and only lasted for the first few hours of the night. “I like to read on my bed. Most times, I sleep in between. That’s inevitable. At least, it helps me get back on track.”

Victoria checks her phone again. My co-reporter and I share a look over our recording midget and I wonder how her mother had influenced her journey. She told us how her mother viewed her studying process. “My mum insulted me very well like, ‘you’re watching TV, your mates are in library abi? They are reading. You’re here watching TV? We'll see what you’ll come out with at the end of the day' and I’m like okay.”

Her movements did not entertain visits to the Library. She would leave the hostel early in the morning, attend classes in the faculty, return to the front of the hostel for some evening rendezvous. “I was really not the library or fellowship type. Like I would always go home during the weekends because I prefer to attend my church. My mom would always ask me to come home so that I wouldn’t have an excuse to attend parties which I never would have attended because I’m not the party type.”

Her default personality gears toward introversion but she says it depends on the situation. “For example, I’m inside a danfo bus and they are almost passing my stop and I have to shout ‘owa oh.’ That is not what I would usually do. Come on, Unilag Graduates can’t be shouting owa inside bus but if you don’t, it is bus stop for you.”

She describes herself as an indoor person, stating that while she doesn’t like reading, she finds other fun activities to do indoors. The one time that she does remember going out was in 300 level when she went to watch a movie with her friends. After that, the next outing was during jean day with the rest of her final year course mates.

BGS AND LIFE AFTER. “lecturing, furthering in Econometrics”

Victoria’s life after school has not been a blank slate. She took up an internship position about three months ago and she does some things related to economics, mostly Business Data Analysis. She has grown an affinity for her workplace but she does not see herself going into mainstream economics. She does see a future of lecturing for herself. She also sees herself applying for a masters program in Econometrics.

“I think I would want to lecture econometrics. It's like a combination of Economics, Statistics and Maths. So like 60 percent of the coursework is what people run away from. In 400 level, I think we were only 11 out of over 200 students that did it. Funny enough, the course is interesting and I like it. 

She divulged her preferred choice of school to lecture in while talking about the fears she has. “Pay is important, very important but conditions are important too. I’m afraid of Nigeria. If I want to lecture in Nigeria now like 30 years, you’re still there on one spot but I don’t know. It depends on how it all plays out. If I’m lecturing in Nigeria it has to Unilag. It is the best school in Nigeria.”

REGRETS “sports, relationships, extracurricular activities”

Victoria’s story is not one of a straight path to success. She wishes she could go back in time and re-do certain things or take part in certain non-academic activities. She played volleyball in 400 level and won a gold medal. That had her thinking of all the other events she missed out on. She wishes she played more sports, meet more people, joined more committees (she was on two), went to a few parties and maybe gone clubbing. “I mean my academics wasn't a very delicate thing for me because I was stable so it wasn't about whether it was going to affect my grades or anything, I just wanted to be on my own. Here I am now bored every time with no memories of going out.”

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She also wishes that she hadn’t been involved in as many relationships as she had. She did not give us an exact number but she mentioned that she had a stalker during diploma period and since she had been admitted into the university, she had been in no less than five relationships. “It all started in 200lvl, in front of Amina hostel at night, 8 to 12 midnight, like 3 days a week and it was fun actually. I miss those days.”

THE MINDSET “self-motivation, discipline, the right attitude”

Victoria is active now as we ask her what was her moral guide towards her academics. She gesticulates with her hands as her eyes roam the FSS car park. “My mind-set in life is you’re on your own. Help yourself. Sort yourself out.” 

She believes in self-motivation and is of the strong opinion that nobody- not even one’s parent- owes a person anything. She points out that there are people whose parents leave them and they still turn out fine. 

She coupled her self-motivation with discipline and the right attitude. She claims to be indecisive but she says that she also knows when to take a decision. “I knew when I could procrastinate and watch season 7 of game of thrones in one day and I also knew when I absolutely had to drop it. People just believe 5.0 is for special people. These things are regular things that basically anyone can do.”

WORDS OF ADVICE- “it is not all about your grades”

The Graduate was certain that people in 100, 200 and 300 level could still improve and for those who feel like there is little they can do to change their CGPA, she encourages them to learn a skill.

“Eventually in 5 years, 10 years, what will matter would not be your CGPA or what you came out of school with. It would give you access to opportunities if you do well so, it is something you should try to do but if it doesn’t work out then you should focus more on yourself. Look at other options because you can finish with first class and make it to the interview but then beyond your first class, you have no real value. It’s possible for someone who had 2'2 who made it to the interview to dust you and the people there would be looking at you like ‘well, you said you came out with first class now' so essentially it is not all about your grades.” 

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On talents, she advises the student to develop them as a part of their personal development plan. “It’s also about your value. What you can bring to the table. How you can solve problems not just saying or seeing the problem in everything. You also need to be able to be a solution provider. Work on yourself. Develop yourself and remember that you have talents. If book no work, you could be the next Davido. I’m thinking of going into music but I don't have a good voice so I think I’ll just stick to working.”

“There are other areas as well that you can focus on.” She adds, advising student to take part in departmental and faculty activities as well as elections. “Participate, join committees, do sports, collect the gold medals and hang them. Become your faculty president, it helps. So when they are asking you ‘So do you have any leadership experience?’ It is not just about your academic standing.  It is important but it’s not absolute.” 


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