How I broke family tradition with first-class degree – Bricklayer

Thirty-year-old commercial motorcyclist and bricklayer, Toyinbo Hezekiah, who graduated as the overall best student from the Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, tells ABDULLATEEF FOWEWEwhat made him pursue education at his age and how he managed to read to achieve first-class

Did you expect to achieve a perfect cumulative grade point average when you started your degree programme at the university?

I’m Toyinbo Hezekiah and I am 30 years old. I come from Igude, a village in the Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State. In the 2020/2021 academic year, I was the top student in Animal Breeding and Genetics at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, graduating with first-class honour. Many people know me as a commercial motorcycle rider and bricklayer because those were the jobs I did to support my education while in school. However, my goal was simply to become a graduate. Considering my academic background and financial limitations, achieving first-class honour was not part of my plan. However, I started with a GPA of 3.8, which is second-class upper division, and that was my lowest GPA. In the first semester of my third year, I achieved a GPA of 5.0, which made me realise that I had the potential to graduate with first-class honour. From that point, I dedicated more time to studying. It was in the second semester of my final year that my CGPA reached the first-class division with a score of 4.55.

Have you always been an exceptionally brilliant student since your early school years?

Yes, my strong passion for academics has always motivated me to overcome obstacles. I consistently achieved first position in primary school, which fostered close relationships with many teachers. This was one of the reasons why I made a great effort to attend a secondary school that was far from my village. There was even a time when a teacher approached me, and questioned if I was using magical means to study.

Did you experience any challenging periods during your university years?

Yes, there were numerous challenging times. One example was during and after exams. While my classmates relied on exam packages and support from friends and family, I had to borrow money and repay it after the exams. Instead of resting like my peers, I would immediately start working to pay off my debts and save money for the following semester. The primary difficulty was the complete lack of time for rest. Additionally, it was challenging to avoid perceiving myself as just an ordinary okada rider or bricklayer while working alongside my course mates.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in a village solely focused on farming; there was no emphasis on education. Choosing to attend university was a personal decision that didn’t cross my mind as a child. However, as I progressed through each stage, I became more determined to achieve academic success.

How did your upbringing impact your educational journey?

My academic path is quite unexpected, influenced by both chance and divine guidance. My parents do not pursue scholarly pursuits, and those around me lack a strong academic foundation. However, I possess a genetic predisposition for intelligence, particularly from my mother. This knowledge motivates me to seek out environments that fully nurture and showcase this innate ability.

How did your parents react when they discovered that you would be graduating with a first-class degree?

I’m not sure they know what first-class means; as mentioned before, my parents have little interest in formal education. Explaining the significance of a first-class degree will require a lot of effort. However, I do know that they are always happy when I call them and mention that I am in school. Being the first person in our family to pursue higher education, they may not fully grasp the magnitude of such an achievement, but they will surely gather together for a celebration if they do.

How did you manage your education while working as an okada rider and bricklayer?

I am constantly grateful to God for the strength He has given me and how He has prepared me for the challenges ahead. However, reading every day helps with the nature of my work. During continuous assessment tests and examinations, all I do is revise instead of serious reading. However, during breaks and strikes, I tend to work more, and when school resumed, I dedicated weekends to work. I stopped working towards exams.

Would you have felt disappointed if you didn’t achieve a first-class honour?

No. I will have no regrets, even with second-class, as long as I become a graduate. The main goal was to obtain my degree. I even feared being expelled due to my financial and academic background in secondary school.

What stands out as your most memorable moment in school?

The most remarkable moment for me was when I achieved a 5.00 GPA in my third year.

What have you been occupied with since graduating?

I’m already engaged in farm work. I am engaged in rearing various breeds of chicken and offering free consultation to individuals who have a passion for farming but lack the necessary knowledge. Additionally, I am learning valuable insights from experienced farmers who have been practicing agriculture for a significant amount of time. Practical experience holds more value than mere theoretical knowledge.

Were you honoured for your performance at school?

No, not at all. It was just a standard handshake with professors during the convocation. However, I didn’t feel satisfied with the recognition. This is another reason why many undergraduates fail to fully dedicate themselves to academics. They often compare themselves to others and believe that people they know are more accomplished. This perception leads to laziness among many young people. Unfortunately, those who accuse us of laziness are the same people who instilled this behaviour in us.

What do you think when people claim that there are no job opportunities available?

This is not a new concept, and I do not want it to discourage or burden myself mentally to the point of depression. I simply strive to find happiness in whatever I do to support myself. I dislike the idea of feeling regretful about being a first-class graduate. It is also challenging for me to not view myself as an ordinary okada rider or bricklayer while working with them. However, I no longer see it as a challenge because I believe that there is a time and season for everything, and this season will pass. It becomes frustrating when these okada men try to extort money from us.

There are times when I have nothing left after paying for the daily ticket. Additionally, there is a prevailing perception that okada riders are irresponsible, which poses a challenge for me to see myself as one of them. People tend to believe that we are all the same. Moreover, attempting to change some of them proves challenging because it seems like I am trying to segregate myself as a student.

Reflecting on my childhood, I had a lot of freedom to spend time with my friends and engage in activities like setting traps to catch wild animals such as rabbits, giant rats, and grasscutters. Swimming in the river was always a fun time. I realised that these experiences made me tougher than those who didn’t have a similar environment while growing up. My childhood was filled with natural surroundings.

What kept you going after receiving your first-year exam grade?

Initially, I was unaware that I could achieve the grade, and that acted as my primary motivation. There were other reasons as well. I possessed a constant curiosity to learn from others, and I did not want my efforts to end with subpar grades. Moreover, I aimed to avoid making excuses for poor performance due to financial limitations. I pushed myself to study even when fatigued.

How did you go about studying?

I made it a habit to read every day. I am not a fast learner, so I started learning as early as possible. I did not wait until the last minute to begin studying for exams because I realised that strategy did not work for me. I excel in courses that involve calculations, so I allocate more time to understanding the theoretical aspects. Whenever I found a course particularly challenging, I would resort to online learning, often using YouTube tutorials as a supplementary resource. This was because some lecturers did not provide comprehensive guidance like secondary school teachers.

Did you ever feel like you wouldn’t pass a course? How did you overcome this?

There were numerous occasions in my first and second years of college when I felt overwhelmed. Specifically, I struggled with courses that involved calculations rather than simply writing. These were subjects where you had to calculate the answers instead of using pen and paper. The computer-based tests and exams at the university were designed for not only intelligent students but also for those who could think quickly on their feet. They would often have 100 questions to be answered within a 15 to 20-minute timeframe. Unfortunately, I was not skilled when it came to using computers.

How did you manage interactions with the opposite sex to avoid distractions?

To be honest, I remained incredibly focused to avoid any distractions. I found that if ladies knew the type of person I was, they would respect my boundaries and not bother me unnecessarily. In today’s society, I don’t possess anything that will make ladies want to distract me. As they say, ‘Who wants a guy like me, who works as a bike rider and bricklayer?’ Some bike riders who lack ambition and a future-oriented mindset tend to get easily distracted.

What are your plans moving forward from here?

I still have aspirations for further education. As a child growing up in a village, completing primary school was my initial goal. However, I want to continue my education beyond this level. After primary school, I desired further education, so I progressed to secondary school and eventually pursued a degree. Presently, my thirst for knowledge persists, but I strive for a balance between academic pursuits and other aspects of life. My specific interest lies in animal science, particularly breeding and genetics. I aspire to establish my farm and ultimately become a professor specialising in animal science and research.

What advice do you have for underprivileged individuals who aspire to continue their studies but lack support?

They should not wait for others to provide them with resources before they start pursuing their educational goals. They should take the initiative and begin their journey towards education, just as one does not need shoes to walk or run. They should start without shoes. When people see them running or walking barefoot, helpers will arise. Some people gave me money like N200 instead of N100 when they heard I was still a student. They should not believe that everything will come overnight. It’s a step-by-step thing. They should be trustworthy as well because some people have turned themselves into social problems because of their situation. They should stop comparing themselves to others. They should start with what they have, and use what they have to change their stories. I have paid part of my school fees if not all starting from primary school in the village. I have never compared myself to those whose parents and relatives are paying for.

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