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“I want my legacy to be one that’s focused on impacting other people,” said Rotimi Kukoyi, the first Black National Merit Scholar at Hoover City Schools, Alabama. Kukoyi was accepted into more than 15 top universities and received over $2 million in scholarships. He got into the most prestigious schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, John Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Emory, and Duke.
Yet, with all these fantastic choices and scholarships, Kukoyi struggled to pick the perfect school for him, contemplating between Harvard and Yale.
He finally settled on the University of North Carolina.
To Kukoyi, choosing a college was “the most agonizing thing [he’s] ever done,” but he chose UNC because of the freedom he would receive through their scholarship program.
In an Instagram post, Kukoyi stated, “With the individualized advising team and the program network, I get to choose how to pursue my passions.”
Alabama teen goes from Jeopardy!, to millions in scholarships
At the University of North Carolina, he will be majoring in Health Policy & Management and received the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, the oldest merit scholarship program in America. By pursuing a career in public health, Kukoyi aspires to help others, finding inspiration from the pandemic and helping the Alabama Department of Health vaccinate residents.
After appearing on “Jeopardy!” for the Teen Tournament, Kukoyi told ABC News that he was inspired to apply to many schools. He went on as a freshman, where he could connect with top-ranked students across the country.
Kukoyi told ABC News, “COVID really sparked [my interest in public health] because that was the first time I really saw how clear the health inequities were.” He continued, “African Americans have a much higher chance of dying from COVID than white Americans…it was almost like there were two separate pandemics impacting our nation, and we saw [some people] marginalized and impacted way more.”
Kukoyi loved being on Jeopardy, stating “It was a really fun experience but also put me in contact with some pretty cool students from across the country…A lot of them are older, and they’re like seniors or juniors that applied to many prestigious schools, a lot of them are attending prestigious universities now. So that was kind of my original inspiration to apply to those universities.”
In another Instagram post, Kukoyi wrote, “As a child of immigrants who came to the United States to secure a better future for themselves and their children through the American education system, I’ve always aspired to graduate from high school. The past 13 years of hard work have paid off, and I’m incredibly optimistic for what lies ahead.”
Being the only Black male student in all his classes, Kukoyi aspires to change the narrative so that minority and lower-income students receive the same learning chances as their classmates. In addition, Kukoyi hopes his decisions and millions in scholarships inspire other students to apply to schools to step out of their comfort zone and apply to schools they might have opposed.