Tola Olorode ’22 is one of just 300 U.S. high school seniors to be named a Gates Scholar.
When Omotola (Tola) Olorode ’22 started at St. Paul’s School in fall 2018, he was clear about what he was looking for in a high school. Following in the footsteps of his brother, Taiyo ’20, the Third Former from New York City knew, as his family already did, that SPS would emphasize character-building as well as academic rigor and the opportunity to engage with public service and athletics. Four years later, he’s equally clear about how those attributes will carry forward as he graduates from SPS as the School’s first recipient of The Gates Scholarship — a highly selective college scholarship from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will fund the full cost of his attendance for four years at the University of Chicago.
“I feel honored, really honored, to be a Gates Scholar,” Olorode says. “But this scholarship isn’t an end goal — it’s a means to an end ... the job attached to this honor hasn’t yet started.”
Olorode, who is thinking about studying business economics or biomedical engineering at UChicago, is just one of 300 graduating seniors out of 37,000 applicants to be selected for the Gates Scholarship. “My college adviser, Mrs. Singletary, was the one who suggested I apply,” he explains. “Whether I had a question about the college applications, the Gates Scholarship, the interview process ... she was always there to answer my questions and be a positive influence. For the Gates, she told me not to let the numbers affect my view of my chances at it, and if it didn’t work out, just to be ready to pivot and move on to the next thing.”
That it did work out is a testament to Olorode’s hard work and the time he devoted to activities both in and outside the classroom at SPS — in addition to academic achievement, the Gates Scholarship emphasizes leadership and has a significant public service component. Olorode counts among his favorite experiences at SPS his two years as a Friends Program mentor for an elementary school student at Concord’s Broken Ground School, despite the fact that COVID-19 restrictions meant he and his mentee could meet only virtually. He also was an Advancement Student Ambassador and a member of Onyx, the School affinity group for students who identify as Black, African American or of African heritage; he served as head of SPS Japanese Society — Olorode’s mother is Japanese and his father is a Yoruba, Nigerian, and he grew up speaking both Japanese and Yoruba — and he sang in the SPS Choir for two years.
Olorode, who will play basketball at UChicago, played soccer and ran track as a Third Former in addition to suiting up for the SPS varsity basketball team his Fourth through Sixth Form years. Injuries during a portion of his Sixth Form season and the COVID-19 pandemic both limited his opportunities to compete, but his contributions to SPS and the AAU basketball teams with which he has played since 2015 were sufficient to earn him an invitation to a camp for recruited student-athletes at UChicago last year, and then a call from his future coach last Dec. 26. “UChicago was my dream school,” he says, laughing as he adds, “Christmas came only a little bit late. For both sports and academics, it’s a perfect fit for me.”
For all his hard work, Olorode is quick to credit others for his success — including his parents and his teachers, personal basketball trainers and other adults at SPS. In addition to college adviser Myra Singletary, he names science teachers Theresa Gerardo-Gettens and Ally Bryant, humanities teacher Colin Campbell, math teachers Lacey Fredericks and David Morgan and former basketball coach Michael Glazner. “They’ve helped me along the way, literally kept doors opened for me and my peers, day to night, whether in person, at office hours or on Zoom,” he says. “I hope to give my best efforts to the Gates Scholarship and make everyone who has made this honor possible for me proud.”
Olorode, who graduated on June 5, will begin his journey as a Gates Scholar at the end of June, when he travels to Los Angeles to attend the Gates Scholarship Summer Institute, a four-day program to learn more about the scholarship, college, and career building opportunities and to network with his new Gates peers. He says that as exciting as these next steps are, it’s not the prestige of the scholarship that matters most to him. “It’s more of what I can use this opportunity to do,” he explains. “One of many things that’s been emphasized to me by my family is to be able to give back to kids just like me — to be able to create opportunities, just like the Gates Scholarship has created one for me. Just like UChicago has created one for me. Just like St. Paul’s has created one for me.”