What Matters Most to You, And Why?

06.17.2019

It’s exactly 2 years ago today that I didn’t really graduate from Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) but walked across the stage anyway and exactly 1 year ago today that I did graduate from Stanford Engineering and walk across the stage (and eventually got that GSB degree too). In acknowledgment/celebration/honour of that, I decided to share my GSB application essay in response to the famous “What matters most to you, and why?” question.

Side Note: I am sharing this essay with the grammatical error I didn’t notice until years later and have stopped myself from fixing now. Please do not judge too harshly; I wrote the essay only 2 nights before the application deadline.

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“Who would I be in an airless, empty room?” This was a question I first encountered as I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Hush, in 2009 – a year in which I struggled the most with my self-identity. It was the year I relocated to the United States from the only home I had ever known. Since then, I have grown to identify the answer to that question in two nouns – a Nigerian and a Christian.

But what has really shaped my values and the way I see the world? What do I strive the most to never lose? My identity as a Nigerian, and everything it entails. It is what matters most to me; especially the longer I am away from home.

Growing up, my mother always said to me: “What matters is not getting to the top, but remaining there.” This became my mantra too. My parents expected me to put in my best at everything, and so did every adult I knew. A “B” was a grade that I was expected to explain because as my mother, “aunties and uncles” (including non-relatives) would ask: “Did the people who get “As” have two heads?”

Surrounded by people who pushed me to put my best effort into everything and to never relent, I acquired an “anything worth doing at all is worth doing well” attitude. As a result, I push myself, especially academically, to reach the top, and I work hard to remain there. I started my first semester at Howard University determined to graduate summa cum laude and valedictorian. I worked hard in the beginning because my plan was to lay a strong foundation since the work was bound to be progressively more difficult. But the closer I got to the achievement of this goal; I pushed myself even more because I did not want to get so close without actualizing my dream. I sincerely have my Nigerian background to thank for imparting in me its values of hard work, discipline, and an almost single-minded focus to achieve any goal.

One thing I realize now, that I had in my formative years was a strong community. Nigerians truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child. It is probably why most Nigerian families are impossibly large, with uncles and aunties who share no real blood ties. That sense of community gives me an attitude of gratitude because I know that I am a product of the labors of love of so many individuals. I am immensely appreciative of the opportunities with which I have been blessed academically, professionally, and globally.

My community motivates me to pursue all the opportunities I have here in the United States of America because my success is not mine alone: it belongs to my family, my friends, and the people in my community who do not have the same opportunities I do. They give me strength when I want to quit because I know they are cheering for me. I realize the need to give back and create more opportunities for the younger generation. More than anything, I want to be able to return to Nigeria with the resources to establish and manage an orphanage home for motherless and abandoned children like I have dreamed since I was seven years old. I am thankful for my community; I do not know where I would be without the many mothers, fathers, and siblings who have been there for me over the years.

Life is about balance, and my community found a way to give me incredible support as well as independence. I was nine years old when I first left for boarding school in a different state from where my parents lived. I was in boarding school for six years before leaving for university, in Nigeria, at the age of fifteen in 2008. The emphasis at my school was on self-reliance, and the rigid discipline my school implemented taught me that at a young age. The lessons I learned in those six years of navigating new experiences by myself prepared me for life, and even now, I believe that I can survive anywhere.

Now I know who I would be in an airless room; it is the same person I am now, and the person I would be tomorrow – a Nigerian woman, Christian, daughter, sister, friend. Finally I realized that I did not need to hide that person behind a fake American accent. Every time someone asks about my true accent, I am proud to say I am Nigerian. How can I not be? It has shaped the person I am now: a person of whom I know my five-year old self would be proud.

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Someone at the GSB once asked me if the thing about Nigerian parents asking if other people have two heads is true. And yes!! It’s very true. So true it made it into my application essay. I think I have a responsibility to ask other Nigerian children the same question.

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