Why I returned to Lagos from Silicon Valley (Part 2)
Please read Part 1 if you haven’t…
How do I convince Stanford to give me a spot in their class of 2017? I had three checkpoints — GRE/GMAT, Essays and Interviews. My GRE was uneventful. I sat twice for the same score, a decent score. The first time, I rebelled, the second time, I settled. I decided on GRE because work was crazy and I had little to no time to prepare for the exams. I also learned that my residual secondary school mathematics knowledge could help with the quantitative section, and it did. For the verbal section? I went as the Spirit led, there was no space in my brain to cram in meanings of verbose words.
My essays were more romantic. Against advice from various quarters to aim higher, I focused on my hometown, Sagamu and my mom. I ranted. I poured out my frustration at how bad governance had starved a once prosperous city. I dreamed. I penned my aspirations for restoring Sagamu’s glory through investment in small businesses. I reminisced. For the first time anywhere, I wrote about my mom, how her insufficient means and education could not stop her from raising me to dream. I remembered how her dynamic personality inspired my career in sales. I felt good writing those truths and I could sense they carried a personality that would touch whoever read them.
My coach, Damilola, trimmed the words to a concise message and when I read the final piece, I felt ready. I hit up my friends and colleagues, Sefa and Dipo, to provide my professional recommendations and my application went on its way. I trusted my friends as recommenders because they understood my aspirations and I was sure they would make enough time to write authentic recommendations. I was worried that big names and titles may not make out the time and probably write something generic.
The romance continued into my interviews where I discussed my experiences and my aspirations. I was told to expect feedback on the 10th of December 2014. The application process ended and I felt a ringing emotional emptiness, the kind I felt when my fiancé, Stephanie, left for UK. But I enjoyed the reflective experience and my conscience had finally stopped humming.
On the due date, I had to fly to Abuja for onward transit to Gboko, in Benue. I packed early. I was on edge all morning, waiting for my phone to ring. At work, I refreshed the GMAT Forum page as successful admits announced the receipt of their calls. I waited for mine. It did not come, until I left work, until Stephanie picked me up from work, until we got to the airport, until I checked in. I was restless. I could not sit and wait for my boarding call.
“Baby, please calm down. It will be fine,” Stephanie assured me.
We crossed the road to KFC and Stephanie tried to get me to eat. I just stared at my phone, lying lifeless on the table between us.
“Ring phone, ring!”
When food failed, Stephanie tried small talk. Her voice was music to me on every other day, but today, she was a whisper. I just stared at my phone, resisting the urge to pick it up and dial a number I did not even know. Soon, Stephanie had to go back home.
“I’ll keep you posted baby,” I promised her with a parting hug.
“Baby, It will be fine,” she reassured.
I checked my watch as I shuffled towards Arik’s Boeing 747. It was 6:00pm. I pocketed my phone and tried not to think about the implication of not being called till this late. Stanford had been my only application. Maybe I did not get in. One for the eggs and the baskets. I should have known better. I checked my phone again. No missed calls. I was arranging my boarding pass and ID…then, my phone rang, two beeps and it stopped before I could get it out of my pocket. Caller ID showed some wierd combination of numbers, not our Nigerian 080... Great! Stanford just flashed me. Maybe that’s how they handled rejects. As I swiped up on my Samsung Galaxy…, intent on calling back, the call came back in. How should I pick? With my right or left hand? Or both? I must be using a phone for the first time. I picked some how, my body shaking.
The Head of Stanford GSB Admissions, Derrick Bolton’s crisp voice quelled all static but my brain was ringing…
“Congratulations…. admissions”, that was all I heard before I broke into air fist pumps.
I did not hear him for the next five seconds it took me to gather myself. He had more, and again, my brain only registered snippets.
“Congratulations… selected… you… Stanford Africa fellowship.”
I really lost it this time. I sprinted towards the plane, jumped three feet high and punched the air like I had just scored for Chelsea FC. I received weird looks from the rest of the passengers, but I rose above it. I would savor my moment. In retrospect, Derek Bolton must have visualized my drama and paused while I celebrated.
I went back to the call. I have no idea how I managed to thank him so formally. My heart was screaming, my conscience was clapping, my spirit was ballooning and my soul was already airborne. As I boarded the plane, I could not contain the extent to which my life, my family’s lives, my people’s lives were about to change. I took my seat on the plane and called Stephanie. She broke into prayers of thanksgiving, her words an invisible hand that soothed my spine and reclined me into my seat, draped my neck across the headrest and turned my face skywards. I could see beyond the airplane ceiling. I was floating, miles above the plane. My spirit was already in the United States, ticking off monuments, meeting living legends and gathering tools for my future in business and leadership. I smiled on end, as I thought of my future in past tense. I really could not wait for the next nine months to pass.
Was this how the Virgin Mary felt after Gabriel’s visit?