Oluseyi Bisiriyu, is a legal assistant at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Like many in the civilian workforce he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and the experiences that helped him succeed in the Navy strengthened his desire to overcome the adversity he faced throughout his life. This is Part Two of a short story series.
Story by: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Fiorillo, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Public Affairs
In Part One: Applying Toughness in Pursuit of a Dream, Oluseyi Bisiriyu had grown into a book store attendant and budding scholar with an acceptance letter from the prestigious University of Lagos law school. Oluseyi felt the lows of life after being dismissed from private school and returning home to work on his family farm and the highs of success after graduating from college. Due to the competitive nature of the law school, the institution conducted a secondary screening of their candidates.
A portion of the screening packet included a Nigerian version of academic transcripts, an academic certificate, and because he had a gap in his education due to his unorthodox path, he would need to acquire this certificate before he could begin classes. This task, however, was easier said than done. The University of Lagos was conducting final exams and would not be issuing certificates until after the law school’s admission deadline.
“I was so scared,” Oluseyi confessed. “I had three days to get the whole package together and I was missing my certificate.”
Oluseyi went to the office of education eager to find someone who could help him.
“I was trying to talk to the well-dressed people but they insisted I wait until finals were over. I told them I had a deadline and that wasn’t acceptable,” he explained. He continued working on the problem and found help from an unusual source.
The West African Examination Counsel (WAYHEC) court office is close to the office of education. The close proximity of the court house and the education office created a great spot for resourceful people to generate income by offering administrative services that could be certified by the courthouse.
While he was walking around the grounds looking for help, a woman spotted him and beckoned him over.
“I wanted to ignore her but I didn’t want to be disrespectful,” he said. “She told me that she hadn’t typed any papers yet and she had to feed her kids. Give me the contract to type your stuff and pay me for it and I will give you the information how you might be able to get your certificate.”
Oluseyi was wise to the hustlers and thought it may be a trick. He was skeptical of her offer and wondered how this woman could help. After contemplating the decision he recognized the tight spot he was in and how badly he needed the certificate. He decided he wouldn’t lose much if the transaction went sour and accepted her proposal.
The woman told Oluseyi that every morning when the proctors came to pick up their exams, the director of WAYHEC walks the gate to ensure everything is running smoothly. That was the only man could approve his certificate. All Oluseyi had to do was get his attention. The stranger had provided Oluseyi with the information he needed.
The director’s aide came to escort Oluseyi to the director’s office and keep him out of trouble. While he was waiting, people who had witnessed the bold move playfully told him he was crazy.
“This is not something that is free for me. I have to fight for it. And I’ve been working towards this admission forever so I’m not going to lose it because some people want to beat me."
"A beating is nothing when you have an ambition of where you want to go to. So you should be ready to put your head through anything to achieve what you want to achieve,” continued Oluseyi.
Hours later, on the same day he came out of the building, certificate in hand, and hugged the woman. He felt like he had just pulled-off a miracle with her aid. She emerged as an instrument of help from an unlikely source, and he never saw her again.
He learned another life-long lesson from this encounter with this woman, “never underestimate anyone by appearance because they might be the only solution to your problems.”
I got into the university and I was admitted on the last day,” he smiled. “They were already crossing my name off the list when I presented my certificate.” I was a law student, he said as he snapped his fingers demonstrating the instantaneous results.
Oluseyi went home with the good news. The news was so big in his family it made his dad happy and changed their relationship for the better. His father offered to pay for his school fees and buy him the books he needed for class.
“College life was almost like college life here in the States. I stayed in the dormitories on campus. One of my friends had a car so we could get around town,” he explained. “I did well academically the first and second year but quit studying as much the third year.”
Oluseyi paused for a moment to reflect.
“I think it’s part of life to have a mix of success and failures,” Oluseyi said frankly. “It wasn’t that I planned to fail, my immaturity and not having my priorities right was my weakness.”
By the time his final year rolled around, he had not matriculated far enough to earn his degree. American colleges measure classes using credits, Nigerian schools measure classes by units. For a student to be considered full time in Nigeria, they must be enrolled in 24 units.
His initial request to enroll in the 32 units he needed to graduate on time was denied because it was unheard of for any student to take 32 units courses. As a matter of fact, it was generally considered impossible task, period.
Refusing to accept no for an answer, Oluseyi made an appointment with the dean of the law faculty, to explain his situation and ask again. He told the dean about his mistakes, and while never making excuses, told the dean his plan to graduate on time.
Having listened to his explanations and knowing it was impossible, she grudgingly approved the registration of the courses, but on the condition that if he failed just one course, he would be expelled from the law school.
Making up the classes created new problems as all his courses required attendance; and they all seemed to take place at the same time.
Day in and day out, Oluseyi would hurry from class to class, trying to tackle the workload one day at a time.
“I’ve been through a lot of tough times and I wouldn’t say that it was the worst, but it ranks up there,” he explained with a smile of relief that it was in the past. “I was studying all day and all night – it was a nightmare.”
After finals, it was the custom of the university and specifically the law school to post the list of everyone’s grades in a public common space, but using student numbers as identification instead of names. But being a student at an institution for five years, most students know each other’s numbers. while everyone was rushing to check their grades, Oluseyi was at home attempting to recover from exhaustion. One of his classmates called him with the news.
“You’re a crazy dude! How did you pass everything?” he said in bewilderment. “I was in disbelief. I was so glad to have passed and for it to be over.”
Back on the track to success, Oluseyi suffered an unexpected set back the very next semester.
“For whatever reason, I failed another class the following semester,” he said. “But I knew I wasn’t supposed to fail it and I requested a remark.”
Upset with the setback, Oluseyi remembers a conversation he had with his mother, who was working in Senegal, Dakar at the time, as a financial attaché for the Nigerian embassy.
She asked him how he could be upset after passing 32 units the last semester.
“Don’t fight it. I’ll send you money. Just go home and wait for your chance next year,” he said recalling the conversation with his mother. “I wasn’t happy, but I’ve learned over the years that when people give you reasonable advice, you should take it.”
The advice Oluseyi’s mom had offered was reasonable. And she was generous too. Her spirituality and religious beliefs assured him that a silver lining was in the horizon.
“I was unhappy that I did all that work and it did not work out, but I believe that the decision to wait to take the course the next year led me to the United States,” he said.
Had he fought the mark for the result he thought he earned, he may have passed and the series of events to follow may not have occurred. While Oluseyi waited for the following semester to retake the class, he passed the time by going into business for himself. He opened a viewing center for people to pay to watch soccer matches.
“It’s like Buffalo Wild Wings without the alcohol,” he explained. “The customers are very passionate about sports and when you combine that with alcohol, things can get a little rowdy.”
With his business doing well, he was in a good place to wait for his opportunity to repeat the course. When it was time, he repeated the course, and passed, and was slated to move onto the final stage of law school.
However, still tired and wanting rest, he went to visit his mom in Senegal, Dakar, for a vacation before starting the second part of law school.
“While I was in Senegal, I started agitating to go to the United Kingdom. I didn’t want to go to the final law school,” he lobbied. “I had my LLB (Bachelors of law), why should I go to the final law school?”
His father convinced Oluseyi otherwise.
“He convinced me that I might need the call to the bar certificate I would earn after finishing the second phase of law school,” he said. “Like I said earlier, if the advice is reasonable, I take it.”
Heeding his father’s advice, Oluseyi enrolled and completed the second phase of law school.
After graduation, Nigeria requires new graduates to join the National Youth Service Corps and work for the government for the year. His first assignment was with the Ministry of Justice in Anambra State, Nigeria. He spent only a few weeks as a professional assistant before he realized it wasn’t the opportunity he was looking for.
“The opportunity wasn’t what I thought it would be and I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to learn,” he said. “I told my mom I wanted to go abroad and study corporate governance at the London Vocational Management Training (LVMT) Business School in London, UK.”
Oluseyi spoke with his parents about his desire to travel and continue his education. With their support, he booked his trip to London and was on his way.
Stay tuned for Part Three