Face to face column with Patience Ejimofor.

He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled, as success looked back at him in a blue hat, yellow hood and long graduation gown.

Kelechi NnawuchiAn hour later,  Kelechi Nnawuchi would be shaking hands with Professor Michael Thorne, Vice Chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University at the graduation ceremony.

Beaming with smiles among scores of his graduating colleagues proudly making their way to the platform in the presence of parents, friends and well wishers, the 26 –year-old knew his life would never be the same again.

Holding his scroll and posing for photographs, the Accounting and Finance graduate smiled triumphantly, happy to have joined his four siblings to earn a university degree.

Undoubtedly, the days of being the odd one were gone.  The British-born youngster has conquered laziness, distraction, procrastination and carelessness – four monsters stalking him from his teens.

Kelechi is the fourth of five siblings and the third of three brothers. His older and younger sisters,  Ahunna and Amarachi, had followed their father, Barr Godwin Nnawuchi’s footsteps and were recently called to the bar.  Older brothers Chinedu and Ikechi are test analyst and pharmacist. Their mum, Ulunma, a social worker, has a degree in criminology and Kelechi, until recently, was the odd one. He was trailing annoyingly behind and couldn’t be placed anywhere academically or otherwise, despite his unique intelligence and amazing mathematical skills.

From about age five, everybody knew Kelechi was no average child for he could joggle figures – add, subtract and multiply with speed.  He was also a promising footballer, playing semi-professional for Chalden Youth, Aylward Secondary School and later Thurrock Borough. But all that came to an abrupt end and kelechi became a couch potato, stuck in a world of make belief.  No amount of help or encouragement by family members seemed to help. The front runner was retreating and fast tumbling down.

“I didn’t have that sense of urgency. I thought that time was on my side so some days I’d go to college, some days I won’t.  You may hang out with friends in the lunchroom or go and play snooker in the common room. The work wasn’t anything beyond me but I just lacked the discipline,” kelechi reminisced.

The youngster was shockingly lazy, preferring sleep to study or any hard work. He would sleep for hours and wake up when everyone had gone to school or work. He’d go to the kitchen and fry himself as many eggs as possible, make sandwiches, add biscuits and wash them down with hot chocolate, leaving dirty dishes for someone else to wash.  Next was to plug his ears with headphones and listen to music or sit in front of BET watching the latest rap artiste. He seldom had a job and when he did, he was repeatedly late that whenever he announced he was fired no one was surprised.

Kelechi was not a bad boy but he wasn’t a good one either. He didn’t get into fights or even pick a quarrel with anyone. He was lively to an extent but seemed to live in a dream world. He was frugal and didn’t spend a bad cent and he dreamed about owning flashy cars and wearing designer clothes. But just how was kelechi going to get them?

A quick and timely decision in 2009 to send him to Nigeria to stay with his father, ruined any get-rich-quick thought or plan and association with any bad guy. Looking back, a transformed and self motivated Kelechi commented on his seven weeks stay outside the Uk.

“Nigeria was different; it wasn’t what you expected – no. There wasn’t anything I saw that was worth staying for – a lot of people who would have worked hard, came out of university and can’t find job. It helps you appreciate the things that we have over here. It was a learning experience. When I came back I was a bit more focused. I wasn’t taking things for granted anymore. I was trying to progress and get things going, even if I wasn’t going to go back to education,” kelechi said, rising from study.

“Less than a month coming back, I got a job with Curries. I worked there over the Christmas period into the New Year. I got another job with working in Lakeside and I worked there for a year and a half. In 2009, I went back to college I did an actual course in computing so we did a lot of work in web designing and programming, it was quite good. The following year Sept,  I had enough points to go to Uni.”

He also recalled how difficult it was to re-enter school, after dropping out for long.

“At a point all doors seemed locked because I didn’t have a college Diploma. The only way out was doing a foundation course at university and then going on to do a degree. Getting into a foundation course can be difficult except for people with a lot of experience. They will not accept you except you meet the criteria.”

He kept knocking on college doors until one opened.  But he admitted never thinking he would graduate. However, he said working for sometime gave him the discipline he needed to forge ahead.

“There was a point when I thought it wasn’t going to happen. But I think working for two years, getting up in the morning to go to work helped me get the discipline – making sure you’re punctual, getting the job done even if not liking it. It kind of helped me to get back into the education system,” he explained.

“When I got back, I didn’t take it for granted anymore because I’d seen people who have been working on a job for ten years. They may be like 40 years. Sometimes you look at them and say, ‘ waaw, I don’t want to be here for the next ten years, doing the same job, working in the same position, getting the same pay and no progression’.”

Kelechi then turned his mind again on Anglia Ruskin University and explained how he felt hearing his name and walking up the platform with fellow graduands.

“It felt good because you know all your hard work has paid off- but obviously I already knew that my hard work had paid off because I had already received my results. But the fact that my hard work and achievements were actually recognized among family, friends and peers was a good feeling. I enjoyed that.”

As for big brother Ikechi’s remark that kelechi’s certificate belonged to all and not just himself, since they all helped nudge him out of the deadly stupor, Kelechi disagreed.  But he gave credit to his dad for believing in him although he wasn’t there with him in London.

“Dad helped a lot, obviously, phoning me on a regular basis, taking an interest in what I’m doing. That was good. He kept reminding  about the opportunities I have in front. You know sometimes you may forget there’s an opportunity and you get sidetracked or take things for granted? He kept reminding me ‘don’t take things for granted,” kelechi said.

“Dad” has further instructed him to go straight for his Master’s degree instead of getting a job.  When he got a part-time job recently in far away Cambridge, dad advised him not to take it.  Kelechi worked for two days and quit so he could study.  Asked where he would be in five years, the former Basildon College student who admitted playing the fool at school, with “no sense of urgency or discipline,” responded:

“Hopefully, I’d be somewhere getting more qualifications. I’d have completed my Masters, be in a good job and earning good money. I still will be looking to progress and will be progressing and making plans for further progress.”

Good luck to the budding financial analyst. And thanks to a country where erring youths get a second chance.



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