Alabama teen Rotimi Kukoyi was accepted to more than 15 universities to tally a total of $2 million in scholarship offers.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Johns Hopkins were among the top universities Kukoyi had to choose from, but he ultimately went with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to pursue a career in public health. He was awarded UNC’s prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship, the oldest merit scholarship program in the country.
A child of immigrants, Kukoyi became a standout academic and was the first Black National Merit Scholar at his high school in Hoover, Alabama. He told ABC News that he became inspired to take his academic achievement to the next level during his time appearing on the “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament back in 2018 when he was a freshman.
Rotimi Kukoyi from the Season 35 “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament.
“It was (a) really fun experience but also put me in contact with some pretty cool students from across the country,” Kukoyi said on “Good Morning America.” “A lot of them are older and they’re like seniors or juniors that applied to many prestigious schools (and) a lot of them are attending prestigious universities now. So that was kind of my original inspiration to apply to those universities.”
The pandemic is what’s inspired Kukoyi to study public health and he said he wants to evoke change on both small-scale and large-scale levels.
“COVID really sparked (my interest in public health) because that was the first time that I really saw how clear the health inequities were,” Kukoyi told ABC news. “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.
“I want my legacy to be one that’s focused on impacting other people. I suppose a lot of people in the pursuit of their own goals can kind of forget what it’s all about.”