“When I came to the American University of Nigeria (AUN), I didn’t even think I would do very well because, looking at my past, I would say I was an average student. Coming to AUN, I felt like it would be hard,” said Grace Nwabunwanne Ofili.
She said, “The first thing that changed my mindset was, they usually keep valedictorian and class speakers’ pictures at the commencement hall. So, it just kind of motivated me and told me that these people are there and they have done it, I might as well strive to have my picture hung there.”
Ofili is the Valedictorian and overall Best Graduating Student of the AUN class of 2023 from the School of Law, which made her a member of the American University of Nigeria Honour Society (AUNHS).
AUNHS is an association created to foster academic and ethical excellence and students who attain a CGPA of 3.5 and above, on a four-point scale are invited to apply for membership. After interviews with the executives, the final applicants are selected and inducted.
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According to the overall best-graduating student, to be part of the Honour Society, you must have a GPA of 3.5 and above and it just means that the brightest minds are in the Honour Society.
“Apart from that, we also help the AUN community at large, where our classmates had issues, they can come to us for assistance. When I came to AUN it was one of the societies that helped me. Like I said I did biology, I was taught by someone and I came out my best,” she said.
The 22-year-old Anambra State-born, Ms Ofili, had the highest number of awards at the graduation award night, where she was awarded AUN Founder Award for Outstanding Academic Performance, Provost/VPAA Award for Academic Excellence, AUN Award for Academic Distinction, AUN Award for Academic Excellence and Leadway Assurance award for Best Female Graduating student.
In her speech, she said: “When I initially came to the American University of Nigeria, I was so timid I flopped my first few presentations. I hardly ever left the confines of my room. At most, one could find me in the library and I made little effort to communicate with the people around me. Yet, I had the zeal to be in charge, to get things done in the best way possible which drove me to overcome my fear and take control of the narrative.”
“I challenged myself every day to be the best version of myself, make valuable connections, build life-long friendships and impact my community. I am proud to say that during my time at AUN, I was a member of the prestigious AUN Honour Society, the General Secretary of the Law Students Society (LSS) and a volunteer for the Geminate Kids Foundation which was driven by my need to give back to the community,” she added.
Overall, Ms Ofili and 13 other female students swept 27 academic excellence and social awards out of the 34 wards given to 20 recipients.
Aside from her, there were Halima Mohammad, Sopirinye Miller-Jaja, Nabila Murtala Sirajo and Edna Denga with three academic and excellence awards. Aisha Njiddah Ibrahim got one academic distinction award, while others like Hadiza Aliyu, Jemimah Nerat Pam, Faith Bwanasom Fwa and Firdaus Bakare and others got social awards.
Daily Trust checks showed that females have been soaring higher in academic excellence at the university. Last year, all Honour Society inductees (with a CGPA of 3.5 and above out of 4 points) were females and in the 2022 academic session, all elected Exco members of the Student Government Association (SGA) were females.
Meanwhile, in 2021, the total award recipients were 19, 11 females and eight males, while in 2022 the total award recipients were 20 with 13 females and seven males.
Also, Daily Trust gathered that the varsity had six male and 11 female Class Speakers from the inaugural Commencement in 2009, while since 2018, all the Class Speakers have been females.
Meanwhile, the university graduated 234 students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at its 14th commencement (graduation) for the class of 2023 on Saturday, May 26, 2023.
The university also conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Human Letter to the President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Professor Benedict Okechukwu Oramah, who also served as the 14th commencement speaker.
The AUN’s style of education
Speaking on the type of education they received as students of the university, the 2023 Class Speaker, Jemimah Shallangwa of the School of Law said her experience in AUN has been nothing short of enlightenment.
The attention given to students is beyond exceptional and the development is extended beyond classrooms and transforms them to change makers that the world is looking for.
“We learn to coexist in the spirit of community, where we are not limited to religion, tribe, gender, ethnicity and have an understanding of human difference. We have become leaders, entrepreneurs, scholars, critical thinkers change leaders and problem solvers with a renewed sense of identity, self-esteem, honesty, integrity and civic responsibility,” she said.
For Ofili, “I would like to thank AUN for the countless opportunities it provided me. This is indeed a development university where innovative leaders, critical thinkers and servant leaders are moulded. I can confidently say that AUN passed through me.”
Speaking, the newly appointed AUN President, Dr DeWayne Frazier, said the dream of American University in Nigeria is one of the most important and profound in 21st-century Nigerian education.
“Our students get the best of both worlds, a university with a uniquely designed American curriculum that focuses on a student learner-based system full of real-world experience and classroom engagement that you will not find outside of the walls of our campus,” he said.
He said: “We have assembled a team of world-class faculty and staff to not only provide the students with an education comparable to any university in the continent of Africa but also comparable to any university in the United States. Take it from me, I have over 25 years of experience in American higher education, and the people here are absolutely first-rate scholars, leaders and people.”
Dr Frazier further said the university’s core values of development, leadership, and entrepreneurship are on full display as they have the opportunity to honour all of the outstanding graduates.
“You have earned an education, nothing was given to you here, you earned every credit and every grade and when you have the diploma in hand, you can hold your head high and know you have accomplished a great feat. But, no person is an island, no one gets here by accident, and we owe a great debt to God and our family,” he said.
A parent, whose son is among the graduating students, Sir (Obong) Nse Ntuen, expressed his excitement saying, it feels fulfilling that his son has finally graduated and become one of the latest alumni of the prestigious AUN, Yola.
He said his choice for AUN is because it is one of the best universities in Nigeria and has set up a standard for educational development in the country.
Speaking on the challenge, he said distance is a challenge as he had to go through a ‘two-legged’ journey from Uyo, before getting to the school.
“Also, the payment of school fees became excruciating, arising from the downturn of our economy and the high exchange rate of our currency, he said.
He further said the lack of a well-structured curriculum from the government affects the school’s programmes thereby weighing down heavily on parents.
Prof Oramah to graduands
The keynote speaker, Professor Oramah told the graduands that their training in the university has prepared them for the future.
“Today, we must celebrate not just the end of your most recent academic journey, but the beginning of a life-long commitment to making a difference. The core of my message today is focused on the latter,” he said.
“Making a difference means more when you are from a continent where young and able people believe that they have no better option but to attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of greener pastures, despite the high probability of death.
“Making a difference means abandoning all those evils that hold us back as a people. You must say no to tribalism, religious bigotry and extremism, greed and selfishness. You must always strive to rise above the self and protect the collective interest because in an interconnected world, you will prosper when the group prospers.”
Prof Oramah told the graduands that hard work and education are critical but that they are not enough.
“I can’t think of anything more important than love for country and continent. It is through the love for country and continent that we develop the deep passion that is required to drive change,” he said.
He further said: “As you graduate today, you must set your goals clearly and keep your eyes on the ball. The quality of education you received in this university has prepared you for the world. You will always aim for the best and never be content with substitutes. You must never allow yourself to be consumed by those negative attributes that divide us as a people because you can thrive without them and help us to build a better Nigeria.