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Secrets of Academic Success: Passion
Chinua Achebe started school at St Philips Central School, Apkakaogwe Ogidi in 1936. He was asked to proceed to the religion class where students engaged in singing and sometimes dancing the catechism, singing rhymes English and general entertainment. After spending a week in the religion class, his teacher, Reverend Nelson Ezekwesili, sent him to the upper children’s school because the boy showed signs of intelligence. Achebe became the best reader of English and during dictation lessons, he usually got excellent marks. He had the best handwriting in the class and performed well in recitations, especially when reciting a poem or essay on stage. In these years, his academic work in primary school was consistently excellent.
In late 1942, Chinua Achebe moved to Nekede Central School because his elder brother John took Chinua to stay with him in Nekede, Owerri. Before his departure, the principal of St Phillips Central School opposed Achebe’s departure from his school. He objected because Achebe was the kind of student who made him proud of the school.
In 1944, Achebe was admitted to Government College, Umuahia. About 3,000 boys usually apply for the 30 available places. And all the candidates sat for the entrance exam at centers in Nigeria and West Cameroon. Only the best candidates are admitted.
It was not long before William Simpson, the headmaster of the school, singled out Chinua Achebe as one of the most promising students. Achebe was promoted from Class 1 to Class 2 in his first year at Government College, Umuahia. That same year he received a scholarship for his learning and character. Achebe wrote the best English in his class and was the editor of the school magazine. He won a poetry prize because his brilliant academic performance was unthinkable. Achebe’s class final examination at Government College became the pinnacle of his outstanding high school career. His results were impressive. ‘How’ in History, Physics/Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Knowledge of the Bible and Mathematics; High ‘C’s in English Language and English Literature.
Achebe wrote an examination for admission to the new University College, Ibadan. In those days, the fashionable courses at university were engineering and medicine and John Achebe, her tutor and official sponsor, made the decision for Chinua to study medicine. Achebe accepted his older brother’s decision and was admitted as one of the recipients of a major scholarship to study medicine.
Achebe’s academic work in his first year at university was not commendable. He could not cope with the rigorous demands of the medical department. The workload was intense, and in that first year it became clear to him that the grind of physics and ultimately medicine needed a different interest than the one he had had in high school. For the first time in his life, Achebe got by without acting very well. It became very obvious that he was never going to do well as a medical student. At this point, he lost interest in science and medicine.
Now Achebe made a decisive decision for the first time regarding his career and academic interest. He went to the Dean of Science towards the end of that first year and informed him of his intention to change his course of study. His interest was now in the arts. Fortunately, he was accepted into the Faculty of Arts. Unfortunately, he lost his scholarship as the basis on which it had been awarded no longer existed. Losing his scholarship was a huge setback, but he was determined to pursue his passion.
Achebe became a member of the Faculty of Arts and selected English, geography and history as subjects. Thus, his studies at the University College, Ibadan began in earnest in the Faculty of Arts. Achebe soon became one of the best in his faculty.
He was scoring alpha in most of his subjects. By 1950, Chinua Achebe was sufficiently established as a student at the Faculty of Arts to express himself as a writer. He began writing many essays and short stories including; ‘Polar degree’, ‘In a village church’, ‘The old order in conflict with the new year’, ‘Mr. Okafor vs. Arts Students’, ‘Dead Man’s Road’, etc. It was in this faculty that some of the seeds of creative and critical work in Chinua Achebe were planted.
His book ‘Things Fall Apart’ published on 17 June 1958 became one of the most important books in African literature. Selling more than 8 million copies worldwide, it was translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.
Affectionately dubbed the “grandfather of Nigerian literature,” Achebe has received more than 30 honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and the United States, including Dartmouth College, Harvard and Brown University.
Put a lizard in a river that will fight to survive. A fish will not survive long on land. The Creator of all things has designed each man for a particular discipline. In other words, we were created to solve a specific problem or to satisfy a specific need. The problem you are programmed to solve is not the problem I am designed to solve because God has put in us everything we need to solve our assigned problems. So you can’t solve my own problem, and I can’t solve yours. Our brains are designed to adapt to the problem we are meant to solve. Bill Gate is known for software, Michael Faraday for electricity, Wright Brothers for airplane, Henry Ford for motor vehicle, Tiger Wood for golf, Chinua Achebe for writing, etc.
So everyone doesn’t have to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer because these are not the only problem we have on earth. It is not reasonable to choose to be a lawyer because your father or uncle is successful in the legal field, or because you like the legal profession. A father told his son that he should be a lawyer because the former has spent a fortune paying lawyers for a bunch of court cases he had.
No one should force you to study any course you are not interested in. People don’t follow their passion because they want to seek name and money. That’s why there are quack construction engineers, who kill thousands every year because their buildings are not sound. We have doctors who carelessly kill their patients because they are not called to the medical profession. We see lawyers send innocent clients to prison because their brains are not adapted to the discipline. Your wealth and fame are in your purpose.
I hear some student say, “I’m studying a vocational course.” We have been misled that there are specific courses that are professional. There is no professional course or major course anywhere. The day you become highly skilled in your area you have become a professional and you have become a professional field. Each field is professional. Anything you are a master at is your profession; therefore, any occupation can be a professional field.
That’s why we have professional footballers. Football is a professional career. So shoemaking is a vocational course, a horticulturist is a vocational course and sports is a vocational field. You don’t have to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer to be a professional; every field is professional.
The day you know your purpose or area of interest is the day your real study begins, that is, the day you become a student. Until you have passion for a course and not ambition, you will never succeed. No one should force you to study any course you are not interested in. Pursue your passion and own your vision.
Neglect your passion and suffer a malfunction. If you locate your area of interest, you will become a master overnight. Allowing someone to pick a field for you is suicidal; you can ask professionals for advice. Learning becomes cheap and interesting when you are at your place of interest. Ben Carson said, “If we recognize our talents and use them properly, and choose a field that uses them, we will rise to the top of our field.”
How can I find out my area of interest?
Ask God: It is the producer who knows the functions and capabilities of his product.
Read widely: There are some fields or courses of study that you don’t know about. Read biographies, autobiographies, professional journals, in fact, read any good book or publication.
Know your passion: There is something you do with joy, without stress and without payment.
Ask a professional or someone with experience for advice.
Be original: don’t want to be like anyone else. You are unique; there can never be another you. You can have a mentor in your field when you have located the field but be yourself.
Resist any pressure from any angle to force you into any area you are not interested in, because only you will suffer or regret later.
Take all your school subjects seriously. Maybe you don’t know the area you’re passionate about.
Achebe would have failed as a doctor.
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