Being a 19-year-old college student isn’t unusual, but being a 19-year-old college graduate is something special. Bosede Afolami walked across the University of Tennessee at Martin commencement stage May 3 to receive her degree in finance. During the ceremony, Afolami was honored as one of the three Meek Award winners. The Paul and Martha Meek Award honors graduating seniors who demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities while attending UT Martin. The award is the only award presented at commencement.
Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Afolami and her family moved to the United States in pursuit of a better education and more career opportunities. Afolami was 13 years old when her family moved to Memphis and when she began attending high school. Before Afolami graduated from Ridgeway High School, she sought help to learn more about her options for higher education. "I was so new to America. I didn't know how the university systems worked. I didn't know how to apply. My counselors in high school helped, and they said, ‘Apply to any UT System school. They're good.’”
The more she learned about UT Martin, the more she realized how right her counselors were. "Everything started with Welcome Weekend with our PEP leaders. I thought, ‘This is it!’” Incoming freshmen participate in the Peer Enabling Program to help with the transition from high school to college.
Afolami became active on campus participating in the Student Government Association, the Black Student Association, Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity, the African Student Association, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Financial Management Association. In addition to the organizations with which she was involved, Afolami was a PEP leader for three years.
Afolami said of her most valuable experiences at UT Martin, being a PEP leader, a peer counselor who helps mentor new students, made the biggest impact on her life at UTM. "My first year being a PEP leader was my sophomore year. First of all, I was still 16, and they [her PEP class] were older than me. I was still a little bit shy," she said, adding, "By the second year, you are their friend and mentor. I still talk to most of them."
When it comes to her education, Afolami always had an idea of what she wanted to study. "In Nigeria there's a limited amount of things to do. When you're young, folks ask you what you want to be when you grow up,” Afolami said. “I always wanted to be a banker.
"As a finance major, I can do anything, and I want to be a financial analyst."
Though Afolami hopes to eventually return to Nigeria, she has discovered what makes her life in Tennessee feel like home. "Growing up in Nigeria was amazing. My family, my friends are still back there,” she said. “I had a community of family with me.
"Martin and Memphis have a small community where everybody knows each other."
Bosede Afolami has a head start on achieving her dream to work in the financial industry. Earning a college degree at the age of 19 will do that for you.