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I washed dishes in America despite obtaining a First Class in Nigeria

The Managing Director of Afrinvest Limited, a leading independent investment banking firm in West Africa, Ike Chioke while sharing his ordeals of his sojourn in the U.S advised graduates in the country to show integrity and be trustworthy in their endeavors especially as it concerns life after school.

Chioke who graduated with a First Class Degree in Civil Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said this while delivering his speech titled ‘Character, Values, and Leadership: Lessons from My Life Journey’ during the 9th Commencement Ceremony of the American University of Nigeria in Yola, Adamawa State on Saturday.

“Some of you already know what you intend to do, others are yet on a voyage of discovery. Even so, always remember that building a career in the arena of life is a marathon, not a sprint. As such there will be many ups as well as many downs. The important thing is to remain focused and committed and keep moving.

“You will leave here today, armed with your freshly printed first class or 2:1 or 2:2 or even third class certificates,” he said.

Mr. Chioke who told AUN graduates to see life like entering a stadium said, “The first time you enter, you will notice that you are seated on the popular side of the stadium directly under the midday sun.

“Those are the toughest seats and that is where life will test you. Your task is to continue to build on your character, focus on your goals and sustain your values as to earn the right to get a seat under the covered stand.

“With hard work and a bit of luck, you may one day find yourself able to buy a ticket in the air-conditioned VIP section of the stadium. Even so, that might not be enough. At some point you may ask yourself, how do I move from being a spectator to the owner of the stadium. It is at that point you know you are ready to make your own mark in the annals of time.”

Immaculata Onuigbo, a Petroleum Chemistry graduate was the best graduating student out of this set’s 150 graduating students. Her Cumulative Grade Point Average was 3.98 out of 4.00 thus becoming the first person to achieve this feat since the school was founded in 2003.

Mr. Chioke who got a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University said he couldn’t get a job in blue-chip investment banking firm in London despite his outstanding credentials and become jobless and homeless in the United States after his relocation there in 1991.

“With nowhere else to go, I reached out to a fellow Rhodes Scholar, Kate Finkelstein, whose father gave me a loan to pay for three months of accommodations at the 92nd Street, a Jewish residential centre in Manhattan for young men,” he said.

“That singular act of generosity from a total stranger was a life saver. This was because while living for free in Hempstead, I could not get any casual jobs and I was two hours away by train from Manhattan where all the investment banks had their head offices. Hence, it was often difficult and expensive for me to make my way to and from their offices for interviews.

“However, from the YMHA, downtown Manhattan was only 10 minutes away by subway. In addition, given the density of commercial activity in New York City, I was immediately able to get a casual job which provided just enough income for me to survive.

“I started from washing dishes in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. A month later I moved to the more prestigious job of selling kitchenware at Macy’s department store and finally to a desk job as an accounts clerk at Madison Square Garden.

“From the interactions with the new acquaintances I had met over the phone, I then got a deeper appreciation of how the labour laws work in the U.S. Essentially, a company cannot hire ‘an alien,’ a foreigner, unless they could demonstrate that there was no American that could do that job.”

Mr. Chioke is also a member of AUN board of Trustees.


Solomon Obende
Solomon Obende is a graduate of Public Administration from the prestigious Ambrose Alli University who is passionate about communications for development. He is proficient in crafting effective social media strategies. He listens to Jimmy Cliff's songs daily.

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