Today I graduated from the University of Warwick with a First Class honours degree in Law and Business studies. I also won the Law and Business performance prize for achieving the highest overall exam results out of my entire cohort, making me the only Law and Business student to get a first class degree this year. I am currently working in a language school in my home town then I will be off travelling for about 4 months before I start the LPC in London and then my Training Contract with my dream law firm. Today is a good day.
Whenever people have congratulated me over the years and even today on any of my successes, I always tell them that “I am a lucky person”. I do not say this to invalidate my achievements or as some false attempt at humility. Whilst I know that I have worked exceptionally hard and I am proud of myself, I am also acutely aware that it was not entirely down to me. There are so many people who have helped me along the way, there have been so many pivotal moments and I have so much to be thankful for.
When I came to University I did not just want to go through it and get a degree at the end. I also did not want it just to go through me and personally gain a lot. I wanted both of these things and I also had a desire to leave an impact on the place and the people I met. The lyrics from the song in Hamilton the musical ‘who lives, who dies, who tells your story’ pretty much encapsulates this sentiment:
When my time is up, will I have done enough, will they tell my story?
I often feel like I have not done enough. There is so much more I wish I accomplished but I have decided to tell my own story anyway and to draw attention to a few significant people and moments that have been invaluable to me. I really hope this will be interesting to you all but either way, it will still remain a cathartic process for me.
It would be so easy to look at myself today in my graduation gown and get caught up in the celebrations but I do not want to forget about the long journey that culminated in all of this.
I have the most incredible family that have supported me over the years – my parents and two older sisters have always been my biggest cheerleaders.
I was born in Nigeria and moved to England when I was 6. My parents sacrificed so much to give me the best opportunities and always allowed me explore my own interests and formulate my own ideas. You see them standing next to me today but you will never understand the extent of how much they have consistently put me first.
My dad is a doctor yet, when he first moved to England he worked as a security guard. Imagine being the brightest student in your class and then humbling yourself to work odd jobs all for the love of your family? When he was able to begin working as a doctor again, he sacrificed countless Christmases with us growing up so he could provide. You might see the nice car, fancy shoes and watches today – but my dad is the hardest working and most intelligent completely self-made man that I know.
Likewise, my mum had a high-flying career in Nigeria, she always had her face on the TV yet she gave that all up to come to England and went back to University to retrain in a new field that would contribute better to the new country we were in. She did this all in her forties, whilst working multiple jobs and raising three children. She then managed to work her way up to the top in a completely new career – she is literally the most inspirational woman I know!
The words from Hamilton the musical: “Immigrants, we get to job done!” have never been more true than for family. Yet, they have never made me feel like I owe them anything. They made me believe anything was possible – they are the reason I can hold my head high and walk with pride. They let me do things my own way and I cannot thank them enough for that. They never once told me to revise, never stressed me out about grades but always just trusted that I would do it – I am so glad that their trust in me was not unfounded.
My two big two sisters have always unwaveringly believed in me. I actually do not know what I would do without them. They paved the path for me to follow – they gave me advice for what to do and for what to avoid. We call ourselves “the three jolly sisters” and we are so close. They have been my best friends, a second mum and therapist all in one depending on what I needed. They believe in me when I do not believe in myself and are the main reason that I am so confident today.
They also facilitate my success – whether it is buying me a professional camera so I can make better vlogs for my YouTube channel, proof-reading every draft of every single essay I submit or just listening to me whine about any problem I have. I cannot thank them enough. They always tell me I inspire them through the way I live my life – well, I simply could not be me at all if it was not for them.
When I started Secondary school I was in “set 4” which was also the lowest set. I went to a pretty bad Infant and Primary School (they literally do not exist anymore) and my new school did not have any of my records so they simply put me in the bottom. Being in the bottom set meant that I would not be allowed to choose a language as an option at GCSE and would have to do foundation level Science and Maths. This set also had the rowdiest classes and teachers who seemed like they did not care. No matter how well I did in class tests, the school refused to move me up. This “bottom set” mentality is something that seriously affected me and I struggled with it right up until University and made me feel like I was not smart enough.
I am so thankful to my Year 7 English teacher, Mrs Mallipoudy. She saw potential in me, encouraged my creative writing and my love for reading. She then fought for me to move to the top set in English. At my school they used English as a benchmark for the other subjects so because I moved to top set in English, I also moved to the top set in all my other subjects. I genuinely believe that without Mrs Mallipoudy, I would have stayed in bottom set therefore not be able to get the GCSE grades I went on to get which means I would not have got the entry requirements for the amazing sixth form I would eventually end up at and who knows if I would have ended up at Warwick graduating today.
I also had a teacher called Mr Cooke who took over as my maths teacher just 3 months before my maths exam and I believe was the reason I scored so highly. Maths had never been my strongest subject but he brought the subject to life and gave me to tools to hack it. Likewise, my history teacher, Mr Ellwood, helped to nurture by interest in the Law – every single month for 3 years he would bring in a copy of the “Law Gazette” for me so that I could keep up to date with what was going on in the world of Law. This saved me the money of buying my own subscription and gave me commercial awareness from a young age which would prove invaluable in the future. In addition, Mrs Johnson my year tutor was generally so helpful – she just believed in me throughout school, whenever I had any issues she was always so willing to step in and help or just listen to me. She was also the one who gave me the main reference to enter my sixth form.
I am so thankful to my parents who provided the opportunity for me to attend a great Sixth form for two years. They gave me the autonomy to choose the right subjects for me and do what I love. I can clearly remember when I said that I wanted to take Drama as an A level instead of Economics. Within the stereotypical Nigerian culture, Drama is not seen as a “proper” subject and I am sure they had to deal with other people in the community wondering why their daughter was doing “artsy” subjects and not the usual Maths and Physics. Yet, they never said a word and just listened to me.
Starting sixth form was a key moment in my life. I had left all my friends behind to go to this new school that looked like Hogwarts. On my first day I got there with my suit not really fitting properly, my braids looked a little crusty and I just felt like I did not belong there. But I persevered and I was able to gain so much from the experience – through this move I learnt that I can fit in anywhere I choose to.
I am so thankful for my English teachers, Mr Marlow, Mr Davies and Dr Gabelman – collectively they managed to rekindle my love for the subject. I really learnt how to think analytically which helped so much during my degree and the passion for writing encouraged me to take up other interests later on such as writing for my University newspaper.
Likewise, a massive shout out must go to my Business studies teacher, Mr Pearce, he sparked my love for Business and was actually the reason I decided not to do a straight Law degree. Law and Business studies was the perfect degree for me and I have loved every moment so I am thankful for the encouragment I recieved from him to take a risk. I am so excited to start my career in corporate Law.
I remember getting awarded the “Business studies student of the month” by him during my first week at the school and it honestly meant so much to me. It was just an internal school award but it made me realise that despite coming from a different school that I was just as intelligent as everyone else. He also taught me about the idea of “gold dust” – this is all the extra stuff you do to differentiate yourself from everyone. For example, it is the difference between an A and A*. This is an idea that I have tried to emulate in every aspect of my life ever since.
I am also thankful to my other Business teacher and personal tutor – Mr Bowmer. I can never thank him enough for believing in me and listening to me. I questioned every piece of advice he gave me to the point that I must have been so annoying. I will never forget a conversation we had where we discussed the importance of following the path that feels right rather than the one that is expected of us to take. This was actually what helped me to decide against embarking on the Oxbridge route and deciding on Warwick instead. A lot of people told me I was wasting my grades and tried to force me into what they conceptualised as “success” however, nowhere else offered a Law and Business degree in the same way as Warwick and so I am thankful for the advice from Mr Bowmer. This is something that I think about all these years later. I could not imagine belonging anywhere else.
I have had so many life changing opportunities over the past few years that have been complete game changers that it would be impossible to list them all. But here are a few key ones.
A lot of people ask me how I decided upon a career in law. Well for me, I was always the kind of kid who would question every single thing – much to my mum’s annoyance “because I said so” was never a good enough response for me. That coupled with my love for reading and outgoing personality meant that everyone would suggest that I should be a lawyer so it was always something at the back of my mind. However, the pivotal moment which really solidified this career path happened in year 9.
This was around the time we were choosing our GCSE options and my school arranged for different people to come in and speak about different careers. One of them was a lady called Mary Irving from a local high street law firm – she talked all about what a lawyer did and what a career in the law could look like. I looked up at her wide-eyed and internally I had that light bulb moment where I thought – yes, this is exactly what I want to do. After the talk, I literally chased after her to her car and told her I wanted to be a lawyer and if she had any advice – she gave me her business card. After weeks of pestering her secretary over email, aged 14, I managed to secure my first ever legal work experience placement over summer.
I cannot even explain how much I learnt and the unparalleled insight I gained into the legal world over those few weeks – I had legal terminology explained to me, got to read case files, draft up legal advice (although I am sure it was not used), sit in with clients and even go to court. It was amazing. Because of this, every summer after that, I was able to secure work experience placements at other firms and even secured a mini-pupilage at a Chambers. When I would contact firms and they would invariably say no because of how young I was, I was able to tell them about all the things I had learned from the first placement and they would usually change their mind even if it was just allowing me to come in for a few days to shadow someone. From aged 14 unbeknownst to me and through the opportunity Mary provided, I was already building up my CV.
Another key moment was getting selected for the “Articles” program with Rare Recruitment. Prior to University, I had been contemplating going down the barrister route but this program brought the area of commercial law to life for me and is how I decided I wanted to become a solicitor. It also taught me exactly how to present myself in applications and gave me the opportunity to get a foot into the big city law firms that I aspired to some day work at. A special mention to Melissa Andrews for being my inspiration – her career path is the kind that I aspire to follow. She was the one who encouraged me to apply for “magic circle” law firms – I never imagined that I would gain multiple training contract offers.
Another amazing opportunity was getting allocated Stephen Connelly as my personal tutor this year who is also my course director and taught me company law in my third year of university. Words cannot even describe how much he helped me towards the end of my degree. The support and guidance he provided was pivotal in enabling me to achieve my first class degree. He also brought the area of company law to life for me especially the idea of separate legal personality and limited liability which sparked some of my later research projects at University.
From all my extra-curricular activities such as attending a stage school on Saturdays to my involvement with the Scouts over the years – I could also go on all day about how these experiences have made me into who I am.
I am so thankful for my secondary school friends – especially the close-knit group that I am still friends with today. They were the ones who encouraged (practically forced) me to go for Head Girl. Getting this position gave me to confidence to go for more roles of responsibility in the future. You do not know how much I appreciate you all. They have taught me to be humble, stay grounded and remind me to still remember the person I once was as I move forward. Even when I am a solicitor strutting up and down central London, to them I will always be that awkward 13-year-old girl with baggy trousers, a wonky fringe and bows in her hair which reminds me to always be true to myself.
I am also so appreciative of my sixth form friends – particularly to all the Watt House girls. They had already known each other for most of their lives but they still warmly welcomed me into the family. Thank you to Abi for being so kind and being my first friend at the school – we shared the same study and after our “dance off” during my first week, I realised that I could actually be myself in this new space. Thank you to Jess – your belief in me has been outstanding. I do not know anyone else who would make and wear a t-shirt with my face on it with the slogan “Dammy for President” on it. Thank you for always challenging my ideas, preparing me for my LNAT exam, for helping me proof-read all my first few blog posts and the numerous things you have done for me over the year. Lastly, I am so thankful for Daisy who was the best History study buddy ever – I do not think she will ever realise how much she helped me. Those skype calls where we would talk through our timelines of women’s rights, native americans and african american history and compare essay plans made me go from thinking I would fail to getting straight A*s.
I am so thankful to all of the friends I made at university. My SQUAD are everything to me. They have seen me at my worst and still think the best of me and I love them all immeasurably. To Zoe my best friend in the entire world and uni wife, to Nima my fellow collaborator and the nicest person I know and to Hattie, my little unicorn and sparkle of sunshine – words cannot convey how much you mean to me. From day one of University, we have grown together and lived our lives together. I could write a whole thesis on each of them individually and how much they mean to me but I can rest assured in knowing that we will be friends for life.
Likewise, I am thankful for my friend Melissa for giving me the best advice and for sharing same values as me, encouraging them and just generally being a good influence on me. She inspired me through her work ethic to to develop good habits of waking up early and hitting our spot in the library floor 5 during term 3 which was so helpful. In addition, I really appreciate the support I have gained over the years from another friend – Iyanu. Not many people know this but she is the reason I even started this blog. I can remember end of year one, us chatting in my room in Bluebell where she brought up the idea and was even the one who suggested “itsmedammy”. She has inspired me through how diligent she is and I can only look at our friendship and be thankful for her being brought into my life and think how far we have both come.
I am thankful to my course mates for making the past 4 years so amazing, for voting me as the President of the Law and Business society in second year and for keeping me motivated. I am so proud to stand next to you all today – I wish you all the best in the future! I know you will do amazing things. A special mention to Nidhi and Katie aka the Law and Business support group. I am so appreciative of them for being my calm within the storm – for going for food with me when I needed a break, sharing all the drama of the degree with me and keeping me sane.
Lastly, I must mention the Latin and Ballroom society and the Salsa society which completely made my final year of University even more amazing. To able to dance competitively with such a nice and genuine group of people was the best end to my University career. And to my dance partner Hannah, thank you for putting up with me – I cannot wait to bust out our Quickstep and Cha-Cha routines randomly in the future!
Thank you to anyone who has crossed my path over the past 22 years that I have not specifically mentioned who have helped me in any way. This is not a comprehensive list and you are all so so important and I am unbelievably thankful.
Above all, I am thankful to God.
In the past when I have seen people thank God at the end of a post like this, I used to inwardly roll my eyes. Was it God that pulled 12 hour shifts in the library? No, that was all me. However, I feel as though God was with me all the way. Anyone who saw how unnaturally peaceful I was throughout exam season will know that there was some sort kind of divine intervention that went beyond my own ability. Similarly, anyone who has witnessed the nature in which I have overcome challenges, will see that I am so clearly blessed.
My faith has kept me strong over the years and I would not be the same without it. A special mention to Life Community Church for becoming a home away from home throughout my final year – I only wish I had found it sooner.
This is my story. Anything is possible when hard work, good luck and blessings come together.
It’s just me, Dammy, looking forward to the future…