In this interview with Punch reporter, 24-year-old Karen Enumah, Lagos State University best gratuate from the Department of Mathematics with a 4.88/5.00 CGPA talks about her success and what she will overcome in the future.

Would you say graduating with a first-class degree was an easy task?

Accomplishments are easy to describe when achieved, but the process taken, the determination needed and the persistence required cannot be described; it can only be experienced. I wouldn’t say it was an easy process, because it wasn’t, but it was not impossible either. I didn’t know I would be the overall best student in my set, even though I made sure to be the best I could possibly be no matter what the outcome would be. However, I worked hard, hence I wasn’t so surprised; although, there was still an element of surprise.

When did you start having results that could make you graduate with a first-class degree?

From the first semester of my first year, and I never turned back, even though it didn’t happen without some potential distractions. I remember being in a hall in my first year and students were having a conversation about how impossible it was to graduate with a first-class degree. I was never part of the discussion but it was discouraging, especially since I hadn’t even taken my first exam. However, I believe that when you are determined, such comments won’t distract you. The first year is always a tricky one. At that point, one has no idea of what lies ahead and everyone is still filled with the euphoria of gaining admission into the institution. It is a time of great uncertainty for some, while for some, those uncertainties push them to give their best, which was the case for me. When it comes to my method of studying, I was quite uncertain about what approach to use, but over time it became clearer what worked and what would not work. The issue of friendship also came into play. In that first year, we were all thrilled with the possibilities of unending friendships, and that was a form of distraction on its own. So, reasonably, there are issues to contend with in the first year, but students should know that good foundation is key.

Were there times you almost gave up on the goal to be the best you could be in school?

Many times, I felt like giving up on the goal but what kept me going at that time were love for learning, hunger for success and love for my family. There were times in the library that I would stare endlessly at a particular page on a textbook trying to understand a concept. Or at midnight, while everyone was asleep, I would be awake trying to find a solution to a particular problem, using candlelight to read since I had no electricity in my place.

Did your background affect your academic performance in any way?

Yes, I actually had some delay in my admission process because of funds. From my primary school days, I have always performed exceptionally, though not without its ups and downs and I learnt early enough that being intelligent isn’t enough, one has to be diligent. I passed my West African Senior School Certificate Examination in one sitting in 2011 and all the times I took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, my results were good. I got admission in 2013, but I turned it down due to financial challenges. I was constrained to put mine on hold because my sister also got admission that same year and there was no adequate fund to send both of us to school at the same time. We actually borrowed money to purchase my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination form. In 2014, I got admission again and that was when I finally resumed in school. I faced a lot of financial challenges; hence, paying school fees wasn’t an easy task. Getting textbooks wasn’t always easy; I borrowed books from friends in my early days and the university library was of great help.

When your parents heard that you still emerged as the overall best in your set despite all that, how did they receive the news?

My parents and sister weren’t so surprised when they heard the news because they knew how hard I worked. They have always known me to be someone who is diligent and they were first-hand witnesses to my work and study ethics. So, they knew it was deserved.

From your own experience, what do you think students who want to be excellent should pay attention to?

They should pay attention to themselves because excellence comes from within. Don’t go along with the crowd, set clearly defined goals and don’t be afraid to engage in a healthy competition for the top position. Don’t be too concerned about recognition, rather be absorbed in self-improvement. Overall, I would tie my excellence to God’s support because without His help, one’s effort is useless; hard work, focus and consistency. And so, I encourage students to try and adopt that too.

How would you have felt if you hadn’t graduated with a first-class degree?

I wouldn’t have felt bad because I knew I had put in my best. I believe it’s not about graduating with a first-class degree, but about constant self-improvement.

Would you have felt the same way if you hadn’t emerged as the overall best?

I do enjoy being recognised for my efforts, however, the whole process was not to bear a certain title but to be the best version of myself. Thus if that comes with the honour of being the overall best graduating student, then it becomes even better, however if not, it still would have been acceptable.

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