It may be hard to believe that in 2020 there are still so many Black people achieving firsts, but high school senior Timi Adelakun is one of the latest to join the list by becoming the first Black valedictorian at his Florida high school.
Adelakun, 18, secured valedictorian status at South Broward High School in Hollywood, Florida, with an unheard-of 5.604 GPA. Not only is he the first Black student to earn the title at his school, he also now owns the title of highest-recorded GPA in history at his school, “an unquestionable record” according to his principal.
In 2017, the high school completion gap between white and Black students closed to only 1 percent, at 94.8 percent for white students and 93.8 percent for black students. Even with those numbers being so close, Black students are still making first-time lists for reaching the top of their class, as in the case of Adelakun.
During an interview with Atlanta Black Star, Adelakun, who officially graduates June 28, admitted that he didn’t always have the pristine academic record that he maintained throughout high school. “In middle school, near the end, our last quarter, I was the person who would always settle for just getting As and Bs,” he said. “It was a common theme when people [said], ‘Oh, did you do good in school?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, I have As and Bs.’ …As and Bs is just what you strive for.”
He continued, “But then when you look at it, it’s like, what exactly was stopping you from getting that B to an A? And it’s usually just feeling comfortable with the grade you have. So for example, if you have 85% and then you have one test that could bring it to an A, and you’re just like, ‘Well, I don’t really need to study for it. I’m fine with a B.’ As and Bs is good enough, everyone agrees that it’s good enough. But then really being good enough isn’t really good enough.”
After being inspired by a schoolmate who later went on to become the salutatorian of her high school, Adelakun began to challenge himself to make straight As.
As a Nigerian-American and low-income student, Adelakun realized the opportunity he had to elevate himself and his family through education. “My parents are both immigrants into the country. My dad was from Nigeria and my mom was from Nigeria. Because of that, we just knew the value of education and how much power and independence education brings.”
Throughout high school, Adelakun balanced his schoolwork with serving as a biology tutor and in different groups, including Thespian Honor Society, Drama Club, Physics Club (he was vice president) and Science National Honor Society. Admittedly, the balancing act was no easy task.
“There’s days that I have to stay up to 4 a.m. to complete an assignment; there’s days when I’m falling asleep during class,” he told us. “But a lot of times you just have to take the L just for that time being. So if I have two things to do at the same time, or I’m overwhelmed, I would just do it anyways… I recently had a 1400-word assignment due, and because I don’t have a working laptop, I had to do it on my phone. And someone could easily just been like, ‘Okay, I’m just not doing it. I’ll just settle for the B’… I find ways to not procrastinate. But if I do procrastinate, I make sure that I counteract my procrastination, which I think a lot of people don’t do.”
Adelakun was able to achieve his extraordinary GPA by taking a mixture of more than 20 AP and Cambridge AICE Diploma courses. “My school offers three types of college-level courses, and that’s how I was able to get the GPA high,” he said of his course load. “They offer AICE credits, which is done through the University of Cambridge … [they] also offer AP courses and college-level courses at our local community college. And because of that, I was able to take three types of college-level courses, which raised my GPA.”
Adelakun applied to “up to a dozen” colleges and was accepted into every school he applied to, including Columbia University, University of Chicago, the Juilliard School, and the University of Southern California.
He chose Pomona College, a private liberal arts school in Claremont, California, after deciding to pursue both of his interests: science and theatre. “Pomona College is a liberal arts college, which basically means that you’re able to pursue different subjects at the same time almost like you’re going to two completely different schools,” said Adelakun. “So I’m going to double major [in] molecular biology and theatre.”
The graduating senior encourages students to make sure they stay on top of their work and know that learning doesn’t end when you leave school. “Whatever you lack, make sure you counteract that,” said the valedictorian. He also suggested that students not “expect your teacher to teach you. Sometimes you have to teach yourself. And you get that in high school. Some people learn sooner than others, but a lot of times people will complain like, ‘Well the teachers didn’t teach.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, that’s just how it is.’ So you just have to be more independent and teach yourself; learn how to read a textbook. If you don’t get it, watch YouTube videos and things like that.”
Beyond college, Adelakun isn’t quite sure about where he wants his career to take him yet, but he understands college will help to prepare him for his future direction. “It’s really open,” he said of his potential career path. “For now, I know I could combine my love for the arts, aesthetics, and love for biology in a field like orthodontics, which uses visual appeal and biology at the same time. So I could always do something like that, but, again, it’s really open.”