Rotimi Kukoyi was just a high school freshman when he participated in the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament back in 2018, but that experience motivated him to take his academic achievements to the next level. And the result? 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.
“COVID-19 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-19 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.”
A child of immigrants, Kukoyi became a standout academic and was the first Black National Merit Scholar at his high school in Hoover, Alabama.