By Taiye Adegoke
The impression had long been held that first class students or students who make good academic grades are often only good at reading and passing examinations and are completely useless outside their academic circle. Unfortunately, today many young Nigerian students have imbibed this impression so much that they are wont to believe that once they have been admitted to the University or other institutions of higher learning, they can only choose whether to be academically relevant and socially redundant or vice versa. This is even more disturbing when we see students reject opportunities that show up for them in school to develop their basic skills on the ground that their academic takes priority. To summarise this long thesis, I am not saying that students should not prioritise their academics. Rather, I am saying that it must not be at the expense of relevant extracurricular engagements.
Based on my track record, I have had students come to me to ask questions like is it possible to combine academic works with other extracurricular activities while on campus? And that is it advisable to do so? My advice to them has always been: Yes, you can and it is strongly advisable to do so. The reason why I have decided to put ink on the paper on this issue is to express in writing what I have always told my mentees orally, so as to register my position in a permanent form and reach out to a larger audience who might not have access to me in person.
Here’s my experience. On a fateful Friday morning, my brother and I stumbled across a senior colleague in the faculty, in front of the Students’ Union Building (SUB) of the University of Ibadan (UI). The “book of life” had just been released the previous day. The book of life is the slang name by which students of the UI fondly refer to a document that is used by the University Senate in the consideration of students’ result. It details the name, department, faculty, level and CGPA/GPA of each student. Even though this document is often termed “non confidential” conversely, it is often made public almost immediately after it is approved. Immediately she saw us, her first comment was: “You guys tried oh!”, looking up in surprise. Apparently, she was amazed at our academic performance after our 100 level as evident in our CGPA contained in the book of life. I had a 6.7/7.0 CGPA. It was not difficult for me to figure out what was running through her mind as well as the minds of many other UI students at the time. First impression they say lasts longer. I had spent the whole of my 100 level days roaming about the SUB and following students’ leaders around to the extent that I almost forgot or misplaced my purpose on campus. Little wonder, another friend, who was a students’ union leader at that time also exclaimed when he saw me in my hostel “Iwe ni yin o!” (meaning: You two are indeed very brilliant!) beaming a warm smile at me. “Don’t be ridiculous” I retorted humorously, with my shoulders heaving with laughter.
On another fateful Saturday morning, while I was busy heaving my heavy bags down the staircase as I was packing from my old room to my newly allocated executive room, I stumbled across some medical students. We exchanged pleasantries and their next comment was “Congratulations! But the news of your results came to us by surprise. How did you do it bro?” I felt somewhat embarrassed but stylishly laughed it off. I knew the reason for their reaction was because my brother and I had once performed our songs in one of the shows organised by the Medical Students’ Association to welcome their fresh students while we were in 100 level. Forgive my curiosity, but I have some concerns. Is there a special mark to identify a first class student? Must I be a triangular student before I can make a first class? Must I be a conservative or is it necessary that I wear a recommended or formal eye glass and heap loads of books everywhere before I can make a first class? Must I be socially reclusive to be a first class student?
Why Would I Want to Be A Well-Rounded Student?
As stated earlier, I have had many young people who are just starting their journeys through school towards securing the future they dream of coming to me and asking me how to achieve academic excellence in the face of many distractions coming in the form of extracurricular activities. Some even see it as totally impossible to engage in extracurricular activities on campus and still come out with a first class. (Please note that reference to ‘social activities’ in the thesis includes political, entrepreneurial, religious and other activities of the same kind). The reason for this is not far-fetched. First Class students are often stereotyped as triangular students; that is, students whose movements are predictable. To go from hostel, to classroom, then to the library and back to the hostel. They are often seen as students who possess very sordid social life. They are regarded as socially reclusive students. That is, students who live a secluded and boring lifestyle. It is generally believed that the task of making the most coveted first class grade in a recognised Nigerian University requires that a student be socially isolated in order to stimulate the intellectual rigour needed to earn a first class grade. This is further reinforced by the realities presented by the Nigerian educational system where, (un)fortunately we find ourselves, in which our lecturers have represented themselves as monsters who cannot be swayed by whatever scholarship you think might earn you an A in a course. Or what more can one say about a situation where some lecturers would tell you categorically that “A is for God; B is for me and C is for the brightest students”. Thus, a student who, in the midst of these conundrum, grits his/her teeth and makes a first class is seen as a bookworm who lacks any iota of social life.
I am not here to tell you how to make a first class, rather I am here to tell you that it is possible to be socially active in school and still make a first class. I am here to tell you that not all first class students are socially reclusive. In fact, the ability to develop some basic life skills through active social engagements while in school and still be academically alert is what makes a well-rounded student. A well-rounded student is a student who has a diverse and healthy mix of rigorous academic and extracurricular engagements. Instead of leaning to one side or the other of the scholastic/fun see-saw, a well-rounded student should focus on finding the balancing point between challenging academic workload and the extracurricular activity he enjoys the most. I am sorry, but I find it very disgusting when a student tells me he cannot participate nor vote in a departmental or faculty election because he/she is too busy with books. Some would even say the reason why they came to school is to study their books and graduate with good grades. While I do respect the opinions of everybody, as everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, I am also not apologetic to this class of persons who hold this parochial view. It is heart aching to say the least, to deprive yourself of opportunities to develop other basic life skills or gather priceless experiences which no doubt would become useful to you in future after graduation all because you want to make a “first class”. Perhaps, proponents of this thought do not know that you still need these experiences to fit into the work place. Soft skills are not learnt in a traditional classroom. The ability to work in a team may not be thought in the classroom as well. But once you have headed a committee in charge of organizing dinner, or you have held the position of the Public Relations’ Officer in your department or faculty, presiding over various committees under your office, or probably you have organized a show on your campus in conjunction with other people, you are definitely bound to interact with different people from different backgrounds and as a result, you are propelled to learn how to cope with different behaviours which would certainly prepare you for the fiercely competitive world and particularly for your work place.
In order to make my message realistic, I will try to, as much as possible, use my case as an example. Recently, I was applying for a scholarship and I was dumbfounded to discover that all what they require to be qualified for selection transcends academic performance. No doubt, the class of grade was greatly emphasized and higher chances are for those with first class and second class upper; however, the emphasis on leadership experience or community service came highly than expected. It was as though, once you have been able to show one or two leadership engagements, you are a step ahead of others. Of course, it became a fertile ground for me which I gladly explored. Don’t ask me what the outcome was (lol).
Is It Ever Possible to Combine Both?
The question many people ask is whether it is actually possible to focus on getting good academic grades and at the same time enjoy some social relevance. There are different views about this. Some schools of thought are of the outlandish opinion that achieving good academic grades and being socially relevant are two parallel lines which cannot cross. Whereas, some others (the school I belong) are staunch supporters of the argument that achieving one does not necessarily preclude the other. Perhaps, the argument of the conformists of the former school is that you either choose to focus on making good grades in school and become a social nonentity or you choose to abandon the idea of making a first class totally but acquire basic life skills through active engagement in extracurricular activities. To them, to attempt to combine the two is to be skating on a thin ice.
It is very difficult for me to see an unassailable basis for this argument put forward by this school. It is, however, much easier to see the abundance of life examples given to justify their arguments. For example, it is common to hear people say if you join students’ union politics on campus as a first class student, you are definitely not going to graduate with a first class. To be fair with this school of thought, I have also witnessed one or two instances which lend credence to this assumption. While I was a 100 level student of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), I knew of a students’ union president who was a first class student of law before being elected as the president. However, by the end of his tenure as the union president he had descended into a 2:1. Similarly, I was in 200 level in the OAU when a first class student of Economics resigned his position as the class representative to contest the highly competitive position of the students’ union president. No doubt, he was a very brilliant student. A mere look at him without more would suggest, somewhat correctly that he must be a very intelligent student. Having contested the fiercely competitive election and having been elected, he became the number one aluta machine of Great Ife students. Expectedly, a lot of water passed under the bridge and lo and behold, at the completion of his tenure, the first class student had sacrificed his grade. He finished with a 2:1.
Are these examples alluded to above however, conclusive of the arguments on good academic grades and good social life? My answer is emphatically ‘no’. As much as the above examples exist to support the arguments against combining both skills, there are much more examples that can be given to support the claim that a good social life should not be sacrificed for good academic grades. While I was in the University of Ibadan (UI), my successor in office as the Public Relations’ Officer (PRO) of the students’ union made a first class from the Department of Classics, Faculty of Arts. Today, he remains one of the best students the department has ever produced in its history. This is somebody who would take union’s activities seriously. Additionally, one of my senior colleagues who is also a mentor became the first female president in the history of the Law Students’ Society, University of Ibadan. She was a first class student at the time of contesting for the position. She won the election, served for one year, became one of the best LSS presidents ever produced at the faculty and eventually graduated top of her class with a first class. Today, she remains the student who graduated from our noble faculty with the highest CGPA; a record yet to be broken. While at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, the Vice President of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) who happened to be my classmate in the University, finished law school with a first class, despite serving over 1,500 students.
Perhaps, I should tell you more about myself. While at the University of Ibadan, as early as my 200 level days I decided to contest the students’ union election. I vied for the position of the PRO and I won. I served in my 200/300 levels. I had already decided and started campaigning before the “book of life” came out and I discovered to my surprise that I was on a first class. Having graduated from a school, my plan when resuming the UI was certainly not to make a first class. All I wanted was just to sample all sorts of moderate social life and catch the experience in full. The more reason why I joined students’ politics as an early bird. Contrary to my plans, my 100 level results were excellent. I had 6.7/7.0 CGPA. I almost regretted making that decision to contest. All that ran through my mind was to guard this ‘precious grade’ jealously so as not to slip away from my hands. I had however, moved too far in my campaign that it was too late to back out. The election was conducted and I emerged. I served in office for longer than usual as our tenure was elongated for some reasons. My brother and I had planned not to contest again for any position after this, so that we might focus on our studies.
On a fateful night, towards the end of my tenure, my brother informed me of his intention to contest the Presidency of the students’ union. I was shocked. How would we cope? “Dude, I thought we had a plan to focus!” I retorted. Obviously, I was not thrilled by such news. But immediately, a second feeling ran through me. It dawned on me at that spot that I should not upset the apple cart. There and then we began nursing that ambition. After my tenure as the PRO, my brother contested in a fiercely competitive election two times for the position of the Students’ Union president. Undeniably, it was not a smooth sail. There were few challenges combining the rigors of academic with the herculean tasks of campus politics. The good news however, is that we both graduated with First Class from the UI and became celebrated on social media and all over the world. Did our social life affect our academic performance? NO. I will explain how I balanced the two in the latter part of this thesis.
The advantages of acquiring other skills (leadership, entrepreneur, etc.) in addition to academic excellence are too numerous. Usually, it is a testament to your intellectual prowess. Most organisations as part of their entry requirements stipulate that an applicant must have the ability to multi-task. How best can you demonstrate your ability to multi-task than indicating on your CV the various leadership positions, entrepreneurial activities or volunteering projects you undertook while in school lacing it with sound academic grades. A top-tier law firm once saw my CV and privately put a call through to me, informing me that even though I submitted my applications pretty late and behind time, my CV in her word “is too attractive to be discountenanced”. Therefore, even though application had closed, I was invited out of turn to write the test. Students who can strike a balance between academic and social life are poised to thrive in any environment they find themselves and most often have proven to be flexible and adaptive to different work environment. Also, they are people who mostly turn out to become utility in their work place, being useful in almost all aspects and they can function in whatever department they find themselves. Again, the combination of grades and other life skills places such students in a vantage position and are most times strategically positioned to compete favorably in a fiercely competitive world. Most of the people alluded to in this work are at the pinnacle of their careers both home and abroad; others are just starting a career but are definitely enjoying, to some extent the dividends of their sacrifice.
How can I Combine Social Activities with Academic Activities? (different strokes for different folks)
I shall be sharing with you how I managed my social (political) life on campus in such a way that it never cost me my dream of making a good class of grade. What works for Paul may not work for Peter. However, it may serve as a useful tip or guide for you to adjust your schedule to accommodate everything you plan to achieve while on campus. I am usually more comfortable dividing this trick into the three sub-heads with the acronym, B-P-P. Each of the letters in the acronym means; B- Believe, P- Planning and P- Persistence. For purpose of clarity and convenience, I would take each sub-head separately below.
The first step towards achieving a balanced social and academic life is to believe in yourself that you can do it. Once you can do away with doubts and fears, you are a step closer to achieving it. The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you. I am telling the story of how best to be a well-rounded student today, because I had taken the bold step to reach for the stars and now, I have achieved my ambitions. After my 100 level results in the UI, a senior colleague in the faculty of law told me that I should not be too excited about my results as it is the norm in the faculty to ace 100 level courses. He said by the time I was done with 200 level (when I would have taken core law courses), my first class would have been sliced to a comfortable 2:1. I sensed that he was sure of what he was telling me, because I was not that “bookish” type who was accustomed to book rather I was sociable, political, associated well with people across faculties and seldom carried books or found in the library. To be sincere, that comment affected me in a way. Coincidentally, it was a time when I had more tasks to perform as the PRO of the students’ union. I had, as a result of that comment, given up on the dream to sustain that first class. After my first semester of 200 level, my CGPA dropped drastically from 6.7 to 6.4. This was just a semester. It was more like the prophesy was coming to pass. It was after this that my brain was reset (lol). I then resolved within me that no negative vibes would weigh me down. I immediately banished fear and trashed it in the bin. I braced up and immediately began the battle to simultaneously carry out my social duties and maintain my academic records. Thankfully, till I graduated from the UI, I never for once dropped below the threshold of first class. What sustained me was undoubtedly my believe in myself. Once you believe in yourself, you can risk curiosity, uncertainty or any other experience that seems formidable.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. In preparing for a battle, planning is indispensable. The popular aphorism goes thus: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”. With a proper planning, it becomes very cheap to simultaneously pursue academic performance and social relevance. I will give an instance where I failed to plan and I almost planned to fail. In my 400 level first semester, we were to have a Land Law test. Apparently, the lecture in charge was relatively new and did not know of or hear about me. This period was when the campaign activities for my brother’s (K.cent) election into the presidency of the most prestigious UI students’ union was at its height. There is no need to hide the facts that we were no more consistent in class again. We were seriously busy with our campaigns as election was drawing nearer. While our mates were in class, we were at the Faculty of Pharmacy, or Vet Medicine or Queen Elizabeth II Hall relating with students as was the fashion to win election in the UI. Even at night when others were in the library or in their rooms studying, we were in our car zooming from one hostel to another; holding stakeholders’ meetings and the likes. I would be in front of Awo Hall (as the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, UI is fondly called) at 12:00pm in the midnight chatting with ladies (they love ‘gisting’ with students’ politicians) and would see my classmates coming from the library back to their hostel. From the look on their faces it was obvious they had “uploaded” everything we had been taught in their heads and feeling of guilt would strike like “This guy! Are you serious with your life now?”
Back to the story. The Land Law lecturer had obviously fixed a date for her test somewhere in a week time. It was on the morning of the D-day that I realized I had not opened my books to read the course. I was practically going for that test blank. Luckily for me, the test was postponed. I saw that as another opportunity to read before the postponed date. I became so engrossed and busy with campaigns that I did not know when the postponed date arrived. Apparently, I had not read anything again. I went early to the faculty to meet the lecturer and tried to get her to excuse me from writing the test as I was not prepared but all to no avail. She insisted it was none of her business and that I was billed to write that test. There and then, I knew I was in for something. The test started and the lecturer dictated the question. It was such a simple question I could have aced in few minutes had I been adequately prepared. I was staring at the question and it was staring back at me. I could not write a single thing down. I lost self-confidence immediately. There and then, it dawned on me that there is nothing like being a genius. You are only a genius on what you have internalized. There is no short route to success. In less than five minutes into the test, I stood up and submitted an empty sheet. The lecturer looked at my answer sheet and shook her head in pity as I walked out in disappointment. Obviously, the impression the lecturer had of me was that I was one of the unserious students in class. After the test, few of my classmates who noticed me in class started asking what happened to me and why did I leave the class so early, as it was unusual. I just told them nothing.
If I had planned, I would not have fallen into such mess. Knowing the volume of works and activities at hands, what I usually did was to have a solid plan. In a typical day, after waking up, I attended classes. Please note, I do not stab classes unnecessarily, unless where it is inevitable. Despite my many activities, I tried as much as possible to attend every class and listen attentively. I am proud to say I can count the number of classes I missed throughout my stay in the UI. A good student who wants academic success should not stab classes. Because what you read in the books cannot replace what you hear in class. They are two different things. What you read in the books become more meaningful when you synchronize them with what you hear in class. That is what makes a first-class student. After every class, I immediately burst out to attend to my political duties. Even though I am not able to read during the day or even at night because of campaigns or union work, once I got to the room in the midnight, I tried as much to read one or two topics I could. Of course, I would have been tired and most times I dozed off. However, I utilized those times mostly to do my assignments. If there was any test in front, I also usually tried to familiarize myself with the important topics that could form the test question. Because I did not joke with going to classes and listening attentively, most times when I read my notes in preparation for a test, I flowed easily and got done with it in no time. However, once the time-table for exams were out (usually three weeks before exams) I became scarce as diamond. I put my shoulder to the wheel and started studying. Whatever extracurricular activities I was doing (including my most cherished students’ union politics) were put on temporary hold. Those were the times, my opponents usually had to shove me in our campaigns. I gave my full, undivided attention to my studies for those periods and I ensured to cover every topic in each course I was taking from cover to cover. Recall that I had always tried my best to attend classes during session thus, it was a bit easier and faster for me to get the principles and cases. Although, at those times, when it was extremely urgent, I still attended to other matters. For example, at some point while I was the PRO my President had to get me off my books to compulsorily attend to some urgent union matters. But once I was done with that, I was back to my book. I read from dawn till dusk.
This is my style and plan. It may not necessarily be your style. But one thing I am certain of is that everyone definitely has a style that works for him/her. All you need to activate that style is to plan. Once you are able to stretch yourself beyond the limit to achieve these, they become part of you and anywhere you find yourself later on you can easily adapt and cope with multiple tasks. It is an invaluable skill, so you know!
This is firmly anchored on the first two points. Once you believe it is possible to prioritise both academic pursuits and social skills and you are able to strike a balance through proper planning, the next important thing is to be persistent and resilient. Do not be cajoled into thinking that having a good academic grade in school while still staying relevant in extracurricular activities is a bed of roses. It certainly comes with a lot of challenges. While in the UI, I certainly had times when I literally cried within me (as a man I might not find it easy to cry out. lol) because I felt I had failed myself. My Land Law test incident I alluded to above eventually came out below expectation. There were some results where I could ordinarily have scored above 70 easily, but the results turned out to be less than a 70. In fact, on two occasions I had less than a 60 which to me amounted to failure. (Note: I only had two less than 60 scores in my transcripts and are possibly due to my political engagements). If I had not been resilient, after my first semester of 200 level when I dropped from 6.7 to a depressing 6.4, I probably would have kept dropping and eventually give up the dream of making a first class; sacrificing same for my political career. With my persistence and never say never attitude, I became an academic icon in the faculty of law, UI having made a first class together with my twin brother and at the same time, a political figure to be reckoned with in the history of the UI students’ union. I have my meritorious award of service as the PRO of the students’ union and my commendation letter for serving a worthy cause and discharging my official duties with diligence and dispatch presented to me by the university management. My brother received the award of the Students’ Political Icon of the year in 2016 presented by the students’ union. These are all evidence of persistence. A “one-way traffic” first class student may not have all these in his/her bag. They would be useful in the long run.
I go through social media posts and find various posts about me and my brother. If I type our names on google, I find hundreds of news (positive) about us from various blogs. “Meet the UI Twins who made First Class” “Identical Twins Called to the Bar with First Class” and so on. In my leisure periods, I flip through these pages and amuse myself with these stories about our success and the comments (both good and bad) that follow. One thing I discovered in this news and especially the comments is that those who are genuinely happy with our achievements tend to be more surprised by the facts that we were able to combine so many things at the same time and still made a first class. There are stories of many first class students but what distinguishes us according to people’s comments is that we have rebutted the presumption that all first class students have no life.
I jokingly tell people around me that my brother and I have 3 in 1 personality. If you want to confirm this go to google and type “Taiye and Kehinde Adegoke” you would find the academic personality. Also type “Cool Cent” you would find the entertainment personality; and then type “T.cent and K.cent” and you would find the political personality. This is called versatility. I will always avow that good academic grades are not and should not be a basis for sacrificing good social life. The ability to budge up your academic life to give space for other extracurricular activities is what distinguishes you as a well-rounded and versatile student, which is an important quality that employers of labour are looking for today. No organisation wants to employ a graduate (whether first class, 2:1 or 2:2) who cannot apply his academic knowledge to real life situations or who lacks the creativity or intuition required to perform his tasks diligently and uniquely. It is therefore foolhardy to conclude that all other basic skills should be neglected in pursuit of good academic grades. My advice to young ambitious students coming to me to advise them on whether to focus on one or combine the two still remains that you should endeavour to combine both skills. Do not sacrifice one on the alter of the other.
Taiye Adegoke is a double first class graduate of the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School, a former PRO of the Students’ Union, University of Ibadan and an Associate at Oluwakemi Balogun LP, Lagos Island, Lagos.