Winners don’t make excuses.
-Harvey Specter, Suits
In the hit TV show Suits, produced by US Network, Patrick Adams played the role of Mike Ross, a brilliant college dropout turned unlicensed lawyer. Mike Ross, a man who came from almost nothing went on to build a stellar career at Pearson Specter. Mike rose through the ranks very quickly, he made junior partner in the shortest period of the firm’s history. His brilliance and photographic memory would make even Einstein jealous.
He was everyone’s favourite, senior partners would typically fight amongst themselves to have him come work for them for two weeks. One time, his boss, Harvey Specter, a senior partner at Pearson Specter placed him as a bet with his arch-rival, Louis Litt. Such was the awesomeness of Mike. He was loved by everyone, the paralegals marvel in awe whenever he speaks. How can this man be a fraud?
Mike’s chance at Pearson Specter and his subsequent rise was pure happenstance. Prior to his law career, Mike Ross made a living selling marijuana and taking LSAT for law school hopefuls. On the day of what turned out to become a life-changing event, Mike was going to a hotel to follow up on a drug deal when he ran into the Feds, he got chased through the hallway and stairs and he eventually found himself in a room where Harvey Specter was conducting interviews for a new Associate.
Harvey, cocky as the king of spade, decided to interview Mike, even though he wasn’t a shortlisted candidate. Mike picked up a book in front of Harvey and dared him to open to any chapter and quiz him from those pages. Harvey, a bit mystified, obliged Mike. He opened a random page and started reading out a citation, he had barely completed the case title when Mike swooped in, completed the title and proceed to read out the court proceedings from memory. Harvey was blown.
Mike explained to Harvey, that he never graduated college let alone graduate from Harvard, as it was the tradition for Pearson Specter to hire only Harvard law grads. There and then, Harvey made an exception and hired Mike immediately. Mike’s life changed forever.
Why am I telling you all this?
Suits is the first TV show that I have ever followed religiously, this is largely due to the fact that the protagonist and I share a similar story.
In 2011, I moved to Uyo and this will become my new home for the next 9 months. On a certain beautiful Friday afternoon, I was boiling rice to eat with the stew mum had sent me. As I watched the grains of rice dart all over the pot as the meal cooked, my phone rang. I didn’t know the caller, but something struck me, the phone number pattern was rather unique. It felt like the owner had asked the network provider to specifically reserve him the number. On the other side of the line was the voice of a man with a deep baritone and he spoke eloquently.
The caller introduced himself as the CEO of DealDey and asked if I had 5 minutes to spare. For a second, my heart skipped, I was totally unprepared. I don’t quite remember what I mumbled. We spent the next 30 minutes or so talking about life and work. Then he asked the question, “what did you graduate with?” there was a short momentary silence, then I blurted, I didn’t graduate college.
For context sake…
You see, I was supposed to graduate with my colleagues back in 2009. But somehow, I managed to get my priorities mixed up and I ended up in a really bad state academically. My folks didn’t know about this. I was even too scared to talk to them about it. I guess, somehow, they had imagined everything was well and there was no cause for alarm, this was largely due to the fact that back in secondary, I was, for the most part, a straight B student. Most terms, I oscillated between As and Bs, but I didn’t dip below Bs. I figured how to hack the exams — cram, write and pass. It wasn’t rocket science.
I studied Computer Science back in the University and this was by choice, not an accident. The first time I came close to a computer was at the ripe age of 9. I didn’t touch one until I was 15. The moment I sat in front of one, I fell in love, so madly in love, I applied to study Computer Science for my bachelors. I was excited. To me, studying computer science was a way of formalising this new found love, I figured since I’d fallen head-over-heels for this thing, studying for a degree in it would be a walk in the park. I was wrong. Very wrong. I was in for a rude shock.
I was so happy to be in school for my first class, I arrived 30 minutes to the commencement of my first lecture. I was ready. This young, naive 17-year-old was finally ready to take on the world and nothing was going to stop me, but the Nigerian University shocks you.
My first real shock was when I saw the student handbook for the entire program duration. I was never going to touch anything computer network related until the second semester of my final year. Database management system was slated for my third year. For my freshman and sophomore year, I was going to study GWBasic, Pascal and FORTRAN. These were between 2006 and 2007.
As the weeks grew into months, so did the frustrations snowballed. Schooling was anything but fun and school work felt like chores. I dreaded exams. What started out as a love story was fast becoming the bane of my life. I was exhausted. Every iota of motivation in me fizzled out. Frustration and anger set in. I questioned my own sanity one too many times.
On a certain day, after lectures, I asked the HOD why we had to study decades-old technologies and concepts that had no place in today’s world, his response was “go and complain to the NUC.” I guess this was the day I lost every single interest in school. I attended classes merely for formalities. I craved holidays more than anything else. Prolonged and incessant strikes didn’t help too. I loved them, a part of me secretly prayed for them. To me, this was my own way of running away from this torture called school.
By my third year, I probably lost count of how many resit I had to go through. I didn’t care, I just wanted to fulfil the mandatory four years and move on with my life. “School isn’t adding so much to me so why even bother,” this was the lie I told myself and I believed my own lie. Looking back, I blamed myself. I could have applied myself a little more and go back to my good old trick; cram, pass and move on. While all of these were going on, I applied myself to what I knew the real world needed. Safe to say I taught myself the real computer science. I had people I admire and these people went out of their ways to support me. The God-sent folks at MIDI (Maximum Impact Digital Institute, Calabar) gave me their resources without holding back; computers, Internet, power, space, etc.
I buried myself in every single material I found meaningful, I read everything I could find. Everything. I spent most nights and days at a cyber cafe not too far from home so much so that the cyber cafe operators knew me. Google was and still is my friend. I Googled almost every concept that didn’t make sense to me. I downloaded materials and devoured them…literally. This for me was my only ticket out. If I didn’t do well academically, I should have a market ready skill. Looking back, I wish there was Andela.
By final year, I had lost so much interest in school it didn’t even make sense going anywhere near the school gate, let alone attend classes. I suddenly found myself with so much free time and I was determined to make the most out of them. I found a small library not far from home and this was my new school. Then one day, while talking to my pastor (Pastor Akomaye Ugar), I mentioned to him that I’d dropped out of school. The man left all that he was doing and spent the next hour counselling with me. He encouraged me to go back to school and complete what I had started. He checked in with me throughout the semester to see how I was fa ring, and that semester turned out to become my best semester ever. I made my best result. I probably averaged about 3.2 GPA. But I still had issues, years of multiple resit quickly dissolved this score and it made very little impact in my CGPA. I’d spend the next 7 years cleaning my own mess. The mess I had created with my own hands.
I got hired…
A month later I had the call with Sim, I made the move to Lagos, this time, I wasn’t visiting, I was here to stay. To make things more interesting, I got a one-way ticket. No turning back. Sim hired me without a University degree. Amazing. I’d go on to spend the next 4 years working at Konga and doing almost everything; from stock count to writing software. But I still wasn’t fulfilled, the lack of a University degree was taking its toll on me. I’d told a few colleagues a couple of times that I never graduated but for some reason, they just didn’t believe me. I turned it into a joke, I’d usually tell people I sat at the back of the classroom, seriously, this part was true.
While still keeping a full-time job, I made a few trips back home a couple of times and for each trip, I manage to take a resit exams and just generally try to improve my odds of graduating. It wasn’t fun. It was exhausting. I confided in Nneka and she became not just my sounding board, but a great confidant.
Nneka became my Rachel Zane, Mike Ross’ fiancée. Times when I was way too tired to even try again she’d encourage me to give it one last shot. One shot became two shots, three shots and so on. On the 4th of January, 2016, after 7 tortuous years, I finally graduated. I got a certificate with a beautiful 3rd class well embolden with what I will describe as the most amazing typeface I have ever seen. I made a 1.54 CGPA.
Sim was my Harvey. Thank you, Sim.
Suits, isn’t just a show. It speaks to me. Suits is déjà vu all over again.
PS: If you’ve had a similar story, go ahead and share it in the comments. Be a source of hope and inspiration today!!!
Celestine Omin is a senior technical consultant at Andela