18-year-old Daniel Obaji, a biology major will be starting his PhD in New York this September
Child prodigy Daniel Obaji has come of age, as he prepares to become New York University Abu Dhabi’s youngest ever graduate.
The gifted biology student, 18, will receive his honours at a ceremony filled with students many years his senior on Monday.
Being the youngest in the class is nothing new for the bright teenager, however, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Nigeria to pursue his studies when only 15.
Now he is set to pack his bags again, to begin the latest leg of his academic career at New York University in the United States.
Daniel admits it took him a little while to get used to being the talk of the campus, but now he has experience that belies his youth.
“People having that image of me was difficult to deal with. It was hard to come across as being anything more than just the youngest person on campus,” said Daniel.
Daniel’s remarkable success story started in Edo, in southern Nigeria, where he started school at the age of two.
“I started schooling very early at the age of two because my mother was going to nursing school. At the same time, she admitted me in school.
“I was in kindergarten in the same class with my sister, who was four years old.
“I skipped a few grades and soon became used to being the youngest person in my class. I had a three to four-year head start on everyone else.”
In fourth grade, his school wanted him to skip a grade due to his academic progress but he did not meet the height requirements.
“At the age of 11, I went to a paramilitary boarding school where everyone had to figure out how to survive and no one cared about how old you were.”
In college, he encountered the same challenges that every freshman faces.
“When I reached NYU Abu Dhabi, I was worried about the same things that everyone worries about – like saying goodbye to my friends, figuring out housing and classes.”
As long as you put your mind to something and put in effort, you will get the results that you want
Daniel’s mother, who works as a community health worker in Edo, Nigeria, was full of pride when he was accepted at NYU Abu Dhabi
While he soon found his feet in the lecture hall, Daniel did have difficulties tackling ‘life admin’ at such a young age, with cutting through various red tape, including visa applications, posing a problem.
His experiences will stand him in good stead as he looks forward to a new adventure in America.
Daniel will study for his PhD in biology in New York.
His specialty is in neuroscience and is focusing on computational biology, which is a combination of computer studies and biology.
Though others may find it strange that an 18-year-old is heading for doctoral studies, the journey feels natural to Daniel.
“I finished a chapter of my life and my PhD is the next chapter.
I am not trying to break any trends. No matter where you are from or how old you are, as long as you put your mind to something and put in effort, you will get the results that you want.”
“For me the conversations with my friends and hearing about their experiences and the diversity of opinions was the highlight of my days at NYU Abu Dhabi.”
The student interested in molecular biology, wants to be known as much more than just the youngest student on campus.
On Monday, Daniel will be one of 275 students from 75 countries presented with their degrees at NYU Abu Dhabi’s commencement ceremony.
Bonnie St John, a former White House official, a double medal winner in skiing at the Paralympics, a Rhodes scholar and an author, will deliver the keynote address.
NYU Abu Dhabi’s class of 2019 is the largest at the university to date.