Seeking challenge propels Adekunle to success
Kareem Adekunle grew up in Kaduna State, Nigeria, far from his current home in Gwinnett County.
Like most children in his community, he played soccer. Then he watched his first NBA all-star basketball game, in which a spectacular dunk by Vince Carter gave birth to Adekunle’s next challenge – mastering the art of dunking.
“I do not like to do what everyone else does, and I am always looking for a challenge,” Adekunle said. “Dunking became a way for me to vent my frustrations over the violence and lack of opportunity that surrounded me.”
At 16, he came to the U.S. after being selected among the top 50 at a basketball camp held in Lagos State, Nigeria by Masai Ujiri, the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. He had to leave his mother and brother behind, but was welcomed into an American host family, Peter and Mary Hage of Lawrenceville. He enrolled in Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn on a basketball scholarship in 2010, and Peter Hage was appointed his guardian by Gwinnett County later that year.
“The Hages have treated me like a son and helped me transition from a young teenager to the man I am now,” he said. “My host dad is one of the most hardworking people I know and that has rubbed off on me.”
After high school graduation, he was disappointed by not receiving a collegiate basketball scholarship and was faced with moving back to Nigeria. It was then that the Hages suggested he tour Georgia Gwinnett College.
“We took Kareem into our house with the understanding that he would get an athletic scholarship to play basketball in college,” Peter Hage said. “When this didn’t happen, we had to decide what to do. Were we just his ‘host family?’ The opportunity for him to attend Georgia Gwinnett College opened a door, and we accepted it. We are grateful to GGC for opening the door.”
Adekunle met with Cheryl Park, GGC’s associate director of International Student Services, to learn more about enrolling at the college.
“Fortunately, GGC was starting their international program that fall, and I was one of the first international students to enroll,” Adekunle said.
Park offered Adekunle an academic scholarship, allowing him in-state tuition as long as he maintained a minimum 3.0 GPA. The Hages then offered to pay the rest of his way through college, leading to his attendance at GGC.
“Attending GGC is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Kareem said. “It has provided a platform where I can achieve all I have set out to achieve because the program is built to help students succeed. I love it here, and it’s safe to say God’s college plan for me is better than anything I had envisioned for myself.”
Kareem cites the GGC faculty for helping him meet his goals. From meeting with him outside of class to assisting him with classwork and homework, his professors have willingly extended themselves to ensure his success. Dr. Benjamin Akins and Ginny Rae Turner even helped him prepare for job and internship interviews.
Among his personal heroes are his American family, the Hages, and a high school English teacher Mrs. Kelly Elliot who still checks on him and hosts him at Thanksgiving each year. He also keeps in touch with friends from Providence Christian who have supported his growth.
“Kobe Bryant has actually been a great influence on me as well,” Adekunle said of the basketball great. “To me, he demonstrates hard work, which is a characteristic my family instilled in me. Coming to the NBA as a skinny high school kid, he worked to earn the respect of his opponents and peers. He lived the advice my mother gave me – you have to earn everything you have; no one is going to hand you anything.”
Now 22 and a summer 2016 graduate, Adekunle hopes to use his bachelor’s degree in business to pursue a career in the entertainment or automotive industry. He hopes to gain experience so he can one day own his own business. He also has established another challenge for himself.
“Growing up in Nigeria has made me want to build parks and playgrounds there for under-served kids so they can have something constructive to do, hopefully preventing them from falling into a life of violence,” he said.
Adekunle has made the most of his college years, welcoming challenges to expand his skills and experiences. He is a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society and the Sigma Beta Delta honor society. He serves as president of African Voice, a student organization devoted to Africa-related issues and heritage. And, of course, he also has played on the GGC club basketball team.
His campus jobs have included the bookstore and Student Center information desk and career ambassador at the Career Development and Advising Center.
“While at the information desk, I tell prospective parents that I don’t just like being a student at GGC, I love it,” Adekunle said. “I tell them that if their teenager comes to GGC, success will only be limited by the student’s own decisions.”
Adekunle said he believes education is a privilege and a necessity … and that he is now grateful that a basketball scholarship didn’t materialize after high school graduation.
“I’m so happy that GGC became my home,” he said. “It’s great to attend a school where I am not just a number, but I actually count.”
Read more about the college, its student and alumni in GGC's Engage Magazine.