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Otun giving the class of 2017 graduation speech

Graduate thanks his "hidden figures" on the path to medical school

Ayodamola Otun | Biology, Undergraduate | Biology Department In 2016, Ayodamola Otun was presented with one of IUPUI’s most prestigious awards, Top Male Student at Top 100. He accepted this award not with speech but, to the surprise and delight of attendees at the ceremony, a song.

At the graduation ceremony for the class of 2017 Otun once again took the stage, this time to tell the story of how he, a boy from the middle of nowhere, succeeded at IUPUI and fulfilled his dream of being accepted into medical school. The following is an excerpt from his graduation speech.

“A few months ago, I was watching the movie Hidden Figures with some friends from the IUPUI Biology Club. We had free tickets – you know how students love free things. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so. The movie is about three African American ladies, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were essential in America’s flight to the moon. However, they don’t teach us about them in history classes. I didn’t even know they existed before I saw the movie. But, we all know Neil Armstrong. These three ladies were his hidden figures.

"I ask that as we enjoy this day and bathe in self-love, let us pause for a second and remember the people who got us into our cap and gown today.

Otun in the lab with Bonnie Blazer-Yost

Otun in the lab with Bonnie Blazer-Yost, Ph.D.

"Let me tell a short story. There was a boy born in a town in a middle of nowhere standing in front of a podium singing a song as he received one of the most prestigious awards at his college in the center of somewhere. He couldn’t believe it. In few minutes, social media was bustling with stories about this boy. Even people he didn’t know told him they wanted to be like him. What these people saw was only this high achieving person. Nobody saw the tears he shed and the people who comforted him. Nobody saw the fear he had and the people who inspired and gave him hope. Nobody saw his broke bank account and the people who supplied him cash and fed him. The same way, we don’t see struggles or hidden figures, we only see the people wearing the caps and gowns today.

"This boy from nowhere is Ayodamola Otun. For those that don’t know, that’s me. When I look back, about three years ago, it is amazing the path life has taken me through. I couldn’t have succeeded in college without my hidden figures in the School of Science. When I came to the country, I started in the winter of 2014, the coldest in 20 years. I had to adapt to the new culture, weather, food, people, and also do well in school. I found a safe haven in the School of Science. I love academics and the people I met kept me excited about school even when I questioned if I would be able to make it through and become a good doctor.

"I remember during my second year at school, my father’s finances were greatly impacted by the declining economy of Nigeria and his salary wasn’t paid. I had to find a way to pay for school so I went from office to office asking for help. When I say the people I’ve met at IUPUI are the reason I am here, I mean every single word of it. They have seen me happy and also very sad but they have really tried their best to bring a smile back to my face. There is so much to say in such a little time but my hidden figures have gotten me this far.

"Now, I leave you with an encouragement to remember to appreciate the people around you and to give back and become a hidden figure for others. It will make life a lot easier. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this! You and I and our hidden figures have made it here today. Let us forever cherish this moment and I know you will all do great things.”

Otun grew up in Nigeria and decided to attend IUPUI so that he could be a part of a rich community of students with different cultural backgrounds and because he wanted to have access to internship opportunities at businesses near IUPUI such as Eli Lilly.

While at IUPUI, Otun was an IUPUI University College Chancellor Scholar, Norman Brown Diversity and Leadership Scholar, Olaniyan Diversity Research Scholar, Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholar and won three biology awards in the School of Science. He completed ion transport across a brain epithelium research with biology professor Bonnie Blazer Yost, Ph.D. and two internships with Eli Lilly. He will begin medical school this fall at Washington University in St. Louis.