Perewari Pere made the headlines few weeks ago when he made a perfect score of 4.0/4.0 CGPA at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, United States in the 2017 academic session. The 25-year-old was one of the 21 indigenes that won the Bayelsa State government scholarship to study abroad. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he talks about his journey to the institution and how he emerged as the valedictorian
How was life growing up?
I still remember playing soccer every day and getting caned for it every single day. It was so funny. There was this day my elder sister was so mad at me for playing all day that she caned me really hard. And in that furiousness, she said to me “Since you so love football, make sure you play tomorrow again. Did you hear me? In fact, if you don’t go and play, I will show you.” In that naivety, I went the next day to play football. She couldn’t believe it and I’m sure I would have had it harder than the previous day, but thankfully her friend came to visit, and in tears I explained myself to her. It was so funny to both, but exciting for me because that was the only day I escaped beating. Funny, but cute memory.
Before you won the scholarship by the Bayelsa State government, did you dream of travelling out of Nigeria for your tertiary education?
Yes, that was always a dream I was obsessed with since I was a kid. I strengthened my faith in God and He did it. When I got to JSS3, I started praying about it. I said, “Dear God, I know three years is enough for you to work it out for me.” That was in anticipation of my graduation from secondary school. I always dreamt of studying in the United States or China because I felt they possessed the best technology in the world. I’m grateful I made it to the US; I’ve learnt way more than expected.
Since it was a scholarship, the process must have been very competitive. How tough was it?
I’m glad to share this story. I was on the phone with a friend when he told me about the scholarship being offered by the Bayelsa State government, and the application was to close that day. I panicked but ensured I submitted before the end of that day. It rained on the day of the exam and we were drenched. Then it shone, and we got dried again. Funny! Right there, I prayed and said to God, “I’m sure you won’t take me through this if you have no plan for me to get this scholarship.” In the first test we wrote; English Language, I topped my local government and I couldn’t believe it because it had been a long time since I last topped anything. That was great news for my family. It was a long process and at a point, some professors from Lincoln University had flown in to be a part of the process and that raised the bar for us. After the exam, we were told our names would be called over the radio. I literally couldn’t sleep that night. I listened to the radio for that news. Something I rarely did. Well, my name was mentioned again and I was so excited.
How easy is the admission to universities there?
I don’t think it’s easier, but I think the difference in the system is what really matters. The standard for gaining admission is the same for every student. Just take a couple of exams and you’re into the university of your choice. We often have this mentality that for something to be appreciated and valuable to people, it should be very difficult and stressful to get. That mentality has held us back a lot. There, you don’t have to say what you want to study in school before getting in. I mean it is even irrelevant if you say so because you can decide to do something else. Ours, if you’re in science, then art is closed to you. That shouldn’t be. People are diverse and therefore should be allowed to explore different fields even when they are already in school.
Did you choose Computer Science because of the technological advancement there?
I had always wanted to study Computer Science. I had always liked robots. My first gift was a remote-controlled toy car. I always wondered why it worked. That curiosity was a thing I held closely. And when I got a little acquainted with programming in Nigeria, I loved it so much. So, I always dreamt of schooling in the US because I believed I would have a better opportunity of exploring this. I initially wanted to go for robotics, but programming stole my heart, so I got into Computer Science. I don’t program as often as I used to because I’m more into product visionary, but the fact that I know a lot about it is still very much exciting. As a child, I had so many dreams, and one of them was to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I know that’s a very tall dream. As I got older, I saw more things I could do to impact my society. So, while not giving up or chasing it, I am working on being a better person for myself, family and my society. Right now, my dream is to own the best technology company in Africa.
At the initial stage, did you target having perfect CGPA?
Before leaving Nigeria, I had the plan to make first class and graduate with a perfect score. I planned to have a GPA no other student could beat. I knew it would be very challenging, but I promised to go through it and God favoured me. There were times that dream almost didn’t seem real, thinking one course could bring down my CGPA. It was very difficult, but thank God I made it. Even if being a valedictorian was not consciously planned for, it inevitably came with having a perfect score.
Have you always had this kind of performance in your previous schools?
Not at all. At a time, I suffered inferiority complex and it drastically affected my education. I only started picking up from JSS2 after already repeating a class once. I was in a probation class and my class consisted of the worst academic students who were on mercy seats. Any slip and I would have left school. I always loved maths, but, like I said, I was suffering emotionally and it was breaking me. I was called a social misfit and that was always my struggle. I started studying hard and getting this scholarship showed me a personality I always knew existed but just couldn’t show forth. In Nigeria, I felt like a fish racing on land. Here (in the US), I feel like I’m in water, and it’s so easy to swim. I like this environment.
Did you experience any form of discrimination?
No I didn’t. On the contrary, I experienced different forms of preference. But I did witness some persons being discriminated against. However, most professors here love to teach international students. After our first semester here, professors literally pleaded to have us in their classes because we were extremely serious with our studies. We always did more than required.
You must have read a lot to have that score. What was your reading schedule like?
That’s the ideology when your GPA is that high. It’s always the general idea. A lot of people say I don’t sleep. True, sometimes, but I didn’t study that hard as well. When I first came, I studied for hours. I did 18 hours twice and it was awesome. In my second year, I literally lived in the library. But over time, I got closer to some persons and we worked more on our projects together, so I studied less. For me, reading books is not my strength. I’m better on projects. Also, my major was not about reading books all the time. It’s more about understanding a concept and thinking critically.
You must have done certain things differently from others to have such a result. What were those things?
I am very intense with my work. I am a perfectionist even to a fault. I worked on the fault part, but kept the intensity. My work was used countless times as a standard for how other students should have theirs. It became a burden as I felt others might dislike me for it. I helped a lot and received a lot of help, but this perfectionist part of me never let me do something half heartedly. Irrespective of how great or small, I like my work looking serious and professional. It always stood out.
Did you attend parties or were you always reading?
(Laughs…) Nice question. Well, I’m not a so-much-of-a-social guy. I like being indoors. I’m scared of chaos, so I always stayed away. I attended only a few birthday parties and those were of my close friends, and I left early. I could use my leisure for studying or playing the piano or sleeping or doing something else, but the reason wasn’t because I was studying. It’s just my personality.
How would you have felt if you didn’t make first class?
I already decided in my heart that I would be fine. The anxiety wasn’t worth it the moment I discovered what I wanted to do after school. It had nothing to do with my GPA, and even if I didn’t graduate with a perfect GPA, I would still have one of the best results out there. I worked hard and more importantly, God was there for me, even when I had doubts. And so delivering the valedictory speech was my happiest moment.
Given all you’ve learnt, what is the next step for you or would you consider staying back in the US to work?
No, I won’t. The next step is to come back to Nigeria and start up a software company with my friends (five of them). It’s called Afridash, taken from Africa and Dashboard. I have a dream to start a tech company in Nigeria and I have been working on that dream for close to two years now with some of my friends here. We know it’s the biggest thing we have ever come up with and we are ready to impact a sector in Nigeria with this dream. It’s not limited to Nigeria as we hope to spread to other countries in Africa and hopefully the rest of the world. Interesting enough, it will be tried here in Lincoln University for a year. It’s a massive product. As you can imagine, it’s challenging to leave the United States and head back to Nigeria, especially with nothing more after school. Some of us got job offers, which we decided to skip because we believe in this technology. I had the opportunity to visit Google, Adobe, Visa, Facebook, and so many other tech companies, and all I think in my head is Afridash. We want to be the face of tech in Africa and we want to build the best and most powerful software out there. The good news is that we just incorporated the company here in the United States and we are set to continue development in Nigeria while collaborating with different institutions to deploy this software. A lot of folks have shared their concern especially with the economic crisis in the country, but that’s fine. High tides not only cause flooding, they also generate electricity. We believe we can make this work. Facebook, Google, Apple, and all these top firms understand that Africa is the next phase of tech boom and they are strategically investing massively. Lagos is leading Nigeria in technology and the government is doing a fine job in supporting tech startups. We believe in this dream and we hope to get the supports required to get Afridash up and running. It’s a risk and we recognise that, but that’s how greatness starts sometimes. We are done with school now, GPA has been set aside, because now is the time to show what we can do for and in our country. It’s a journey that has already begun.