A Black teenager who was accepted into 15 of the nation’s prestigious universities and awarded $2 million in scholarships plans to use his education to help tackle Black health disparities.
Rotimi Kukoyi was accepted into Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Vanderbilt, Emory, Rice, Johns Hopkins and Duke universities, among others. However, he plans to attend the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he will study health policy and management as one of the select students chosen for the school’s Morehead-Cain Scholarship.
“The past 13 years of hard work have paid off, and I’m incredibly optimistic for what lies ahead,” Kukoyi wrote on Instagram last month. “I’m thankful to the close relationships that have supported me throughout this journey, and I’m excited to watch my friends continue to succeed from afar.”
Kukoyi plans to use his degree to work on better health outcomes for Black Americans.
“With this scholarship, I’m able to choose the path less traveled by — the road not taken — and define my own journey. And have it all paid for,” Kukoyi said. “At UNC, I hope to lay the foundations of a career driving health equity in our nation.”
The teenager who competed on “Jeopardy!” was also the first Black National Merit Scholar at his high school in Hoover, Alabama. Kukoyi decided to pursue public health after helping the Alabama Department of Health with its campaign against vaccine hesitancy. At the time, the state had the lowest vaccination rate, and he wanted to learn how else he could make an impact.
He said COVID-19 sparked his interest in public health “because that was the first time that I really saw how clear the health inequities were,” Kukoyi said.” African Americans had 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 said he was inspired to apply to multiple universities by the other contestants he met when he competed on “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament” in 2018, when he was a freshman. He said many of the students were older, and they applied and were accepted into the nation’s top schools, so he decided to follow suit.
The Nigerian-American teenager hopes his story will inspire other students to apply to prominent universities.
“A lot of kids that I talked to didn’t think they could apply to the bigger schools or get into the bigger schools” or were concerned about the costs, he said. “But there are other resources available to students to kind of help with that.”