Every year, thousands of young Nigerians travel to the United States to study. While many do well, only a very select few graduate top of their entire university class. 22 year old Emmanuel Ohuabunwa is one of these select few. However , his story doesn’t stop there. Not only did he graduate top of his class at Johns Hopkins University, he made history by becoming the first black man to do so in the university’s history!
Johns Hopkins University is acclaimed worldwide as a leading university in the field of medicine. It pioneered the concept of modern research in the United States and has ranked among the world’s top such universities throughout its history. The National Science Foundation has ranked the university #1 among U.S. academic institutions in total science, medical and engineering research and development and as at 2011, about 37 Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with the University.
So how did 22 year old Emmanuel Ohuabunwa manage to come out tops from such a prestigious academic institution?
When Emmanuel was 13 years old, his family moved to the United States. Though he was taunted and bullied for being African while in Middle School in the United States, he persevered. In his words,
When I got to the US, I was enrolled with my age mates, which meant at 13, I was in middle school. I went to Fondren Middle School, which was in the middle of the ghetto. That was one of the darkest years for me because I encountered a lot of peer pressure. Some of the students, ignorant about Africa, bullied me and called me names such as ‘African booty scratcher’ because to them, Africans were dirty and scratched their butts all the time.
“Some asked me if I lived in mud huts and ate faeces for breakfast. I remember one day, when I was walking to the school bus, a boy came from behind and punched me in the face, called me an African and walked away. It took everything in me not to retaliate. I knew that God had put me in the U.S for a purpose and it did not involve fighting or selling drugs or doing the wrong things.
“My experience during that year gave me a thick skin. I learned to stand for what I thought was right even when the opposition seemed insurmountable. I also learned to look at the positive in all situations. Even though these kids were bullying me, I was still gaining an opportunity to school in America and nothing would stop me from making the best of this opportunity.
“The shocker was that the kid that punched me in the face was black. I would have expected the blacks to be nicer to me. Nevertheless, I don’t blame those kids because they were ignorant about Africa. All they knew about us was the stuff they had watched on TV or documentaries, showing primitive African tribes, living in the jungle and making noises like monkeys.
“In regards to the whites, there might have been some minor episodes but again I don’t blame them for it because it is a problem with stereotypes,” he said.
Though he was constantly bullied, Emmanuel knew that he wanted to attend the best school for undergraduate students interested in medicine in the United States. He studied hard in hard school and took advanced courses to prepare himself. During graduation, he was given an Award for the Most Outstanding Senior Young Man at DeBakey High School. He subsequently won a full scholarship awarded to him by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study at any university of his choice in the United States. Luckily for him, he got into the Neuroscience program at Johns Hopkins University.
On why he studied neuroscience, he said:
“I studied Neuroscience, because I was fascinated with the brain, its control of our behaviours and how various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, lead to a decline in its activity. I also minored in Psychology because I wanted to understand disorders in the psyche. What causes bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. I did not just want to label them as crazy but to understand what causes these conditions and how we can treat them.”
Emmanuel brought his discipline and work ethic to Johns Hopkins University and kept working hard, eventually graduating with a 3.98 GPA. This made him emerge top of his graduating class and made him the first black man to emerge top of any graduating class in Johns Hopkins University’s history.
Emmanuel will be attending Yale University Medical School later this year on a full scholarship and easily got into all the medical schools he applied to including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Cornell.
Emmanuel will eventually like to come back to his home country Nigeria to help shape health policy.
“Nigerian hospitals lack the infrastructure required to compete with major hospitals around the world. It would be an honour to one day contribute to this transformation that is necessary for improvements in Nigeria’s health care sector,” he said.
Emmanuel’s story shows what is possible with continued discipline and resilience. Share his story with Nigerians in the Diaspora and help inspire Africa’s young people to continue to excel in their academic and professional endeavours.