Twenty-three year old Lucky Michael, with a CGPA of 4.71, graduated with a first class degree from the University of Benin in 2014. The Mathematics graduate tells ‘NONYE BEN-NWANKWO the sacrifices he made to attain this feat
Was it very easy for you to make First Class in school?
It wasn’t easy at all. Just as it is with every worthwhile achievement, making a first class in the University of Benin was like the hardest task I’ve ever encountered in life. It was something that came at a pretty cost – from sleepless nights to regular class attendance to lots of assignments and exercises, constant and committed reading pattern, discipline and denials. But the consolation I have today from all those sacrifices I made then is that I achieved my academic desires.
Was it your plan from the very moment you entered the university that you would make a first class?
The truth is, apart from death, no memorable occurrence ever happens to a man by providence. It all has to be planned out and anticipated, directly or indirectly. Having a first class was something I had always prepared for right after secondary school. Academic excellence was something I have always had a ‘crush’ on. I loved (and still do) the idea of coming out in flying colours. In fact, I was obsessed with it. I remember back then in 100L how I would annoy some of my hostel mates because I wouldn’t stop talking about having a first class and being a first class student. It all paid off though.
So having a first class was something that didn’t come to me by chance rather it came by a planned choice.
But was it your desire to choose Mathematics as a course to study in the university?
Oh yes, I chose it. Although back then in secondary school, I used to talk about studying Engineering in the university and becoming an expert Mechanical Engineer. But then, I was young and inexperienced. In 2009 (2009 was a very memorable year in my life), while doing some self-appraisal, comparing and contrasting my strength against my weakness and also looking at the fact that I was passionate about Mathematics, I reached a conclusion that I was going to be a world class Mathematician and that was where my journey of studying Mathematics started from and it is a decision I still cherish till today, not because of the first class I made out of it, but because of the problem-solving abilities I have developed over time from studying it.
So in 2010 while filling my Universities Matriculation Examination form, I chose Mathematics and I chose UNIBEN too. Luckily for me, I got both choices right on point.
But why do so many people feel Mathematics is a difficult subject even in primary school?
Over time, I have noticed there is an element of truth in every ‘general’ opinion. People often see Mathematics as difficult and honestly, it is. There is a world of difference between the basic Mathematics offered in secondary/primary schools and that offered at the tertiary institution. That of the secondary school is much easier to grasp because it deals basically with calculation. But that of the tertiary institution is more demanding because the calculations are less and it is more of theorems which require an intuitive mind to understand them.
In spite of the contrast, Mathematics on a general note is a subject that appears difficult but can be made easy by regular studying and practising. Permit me to add, it requires lot of patience too and a good reasoning/thinking pattern.
What was your growing up like?
Growing up was challenging. Not much of the proverbial ‘bed of roses’. I have had to constantly strive to attain my desires. But it has always been fun though as I have learnt life’s basic lessons from all my experiences. One of my core values today is ‘adventure’ and that is due to my persistent efforts to pluck the best fruits from the ‘tree of life’
Did your parents support your choice or they had another course in mind for you?
Initially, dad didn’t support my idea of studying Mathematics in the university. He loved the prestige attached with his son doing a ‘Medicine and Surgery’ kind of profession but over time, he changed that stereotype and supported me fully when he discovered I wasn’t cut out for the medical line but for the pure sciences. Mum has always believed in my ability to make right choices and so it wasn’t much of an issue for her. Today, I have the unflinching support of both of them in my mathematical pursuits.
Having a first class might not have come easy; did you take any decision as regards your academics when you gained admission?
No, it was not easy. I had to take a lot of decisions in line with my desired ‘class of degree’.
First of those decisions was desire. I desired getting a first class just as a man desires breath to survive, and that desire really played a crucial role towards my attaining it. I had a strong desire which I don’t want to call desperation.
Secondly, I told myself I couldn’t have every excess I wanted and so I practised denial and discipline. For instance, instead of the normal long-hour night sleep, I would reduce my sleeping time and go for an all-night reading. And that was denial mixed with discipline.
Did you get admission immediately you finished secondary school?
No. I finished my secondary education in 2008 but I had to take General Certificate Examination again the following year to complete my O’Level results. With that, I sat for the 2010 UME and that was the year I gained admission.
What was your experience like as a fresh student in 100L?
My first year in school was a memory lane I don’t like going back to. I was so green and so I had to experiment with a lot of things- from random class attendance to a weak study habit. I tried out different tutorial centres and I also did some little jobs for money too. I almost registered for the university’s work-study programme. I did all those until I discovered what worked best for me. I remember my first experience in night class; I was so surprised seeing some of my course mates doing some serious reading at night whereas I had initially been dedicating all of my nights to my bunk bed!
Mathematics is mainly calculations, so how did you read in school?
Mathematics (especially the Pure or Applied Mathematics) at the university level deals with less calculation and more of theorems and their proofs and so we did a lot of reading, and most importantly in-depth studying too. Normally, we would study the theorems very well and try to relate them with solvable examples and after that we would try out the proofs ourselves. Proving theorems is an aspect of Mathematics that requires patience and consistent practices, linking every aspect of the theorem to get something logical and concrete. Those theorems are the beautiful aspects of Mathematics, they give wings to the calculations themselves because, most times, it is only with an understanding of those theorems one would be able to do the calculations.
For instance, to solve questions on a topic like ‘LIMITS’, one has to read and understand the ‘Theorems of Limits’ first. I know this sounds strange but that is the truth. I stopped using calculators somewhere in 100 or 200L because it was no longer needed as such.
Then you must have had a reading pattern…
Yes. I normally prepared a reading timetable during holidays before the semester began and I was a good disciple of my timetables too. Most times because of the nature of activities I got involved in when semester fully resumed, I would start some ‘light’ reading and familiarisation processes right from the holidays. So before the semester began properly, I already had foundational ideas of each course and with those ideas, I was good to go personally without lectures.
Also during the course of the semester, no matter how busy the day was, I would still read up something even if it was a page or as little as a paragraph. Most times, I might not have to read for long hours at a stretch but I tried to get consistent with those my ‘little’ readings and that was how I got to cover each course outline before the exam period.
Like how many hours were you reading daily?
It varied though. During lecture periods, I read like six hours daily and most times not at a stretch. But towards revision and exam periods when all lectures would have ended, I doubled my reading time because that was the period we usually had all the time to ourselves. Most of the reading I did during this exam periods were more of revisions and answering past questions because I would have covered the outlines from those ‘little’ consistent readings I did towards the beginning of the semester. And that’s the period I got to read some ‘non-academic’ motivational piece(s) too.
Some people also believe that studying Mathematics requires a lot of steadfastness. Were there times you didn’t sleep?
Yes, there were a lot of times I didn’t sleep at all. Night class was a regular part of my student life. And there were those times I felt like sleeping for 72 hours straight up but I would only take a nap and still set alarm at that.
Were you a lover of library or you never/rarely used it?
Yea, I was a die-hard lover of the library. I remember I would joke about John Harris Library (The official UNIBEN library) being my second home and my best friend. I was one of those that wished the library operated overnight because that was one place I had serenity in terms of reading and understanding.
What are you doing at moment?
I am still looking for a job; I have not found one yet. But I have been applying.
And where would you want to work?
I would want to work in a bank or insurance firms where my expertise will be needed.
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