Fred Ojukwu ‘08, whose family is from Nigeria, grew up in Stone Mountain, GA before coming to board at Rabun Gap in the eighth grade. During his time at the School, Fred dabbled in a little bit of everything. He played on the basketball and soccer teams, participated in School productions and Cirque, and was a member of the student government. He worked the farm, sang in Chorus, and even served as a prefect in Bellingrath Dorm. After graduating, Fred chose to pursue a career in medicine and is currently a medical anesthesiology resident at the Mayo Clinic Rochester in Rochester, MN.
What made you decide to attend Rabun Gap?
I would say that the decision to choose Rabun Gap for my boarding school education was fairly easy! My parents interviewed and toured several schools in the Georgia area and were ultimately most impressed with Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.
I started at Rabun Gap in eighth grade, and at the time was for the most part completely oblivious to the fact that I was being prepped to transition into a boarding school. My parents had mentioned prior that they were THINKING about sending me to boarding school, but I had assumed that they were expecting me to go more in my late high school years. Retrospectively thinking, I believe my parents were very impressed by the beautiful campus and amazing staff.
What was it like being a boarding student at Rabun Gap?
I feel very privileged to say that I made my way through most of the male dormitories and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I can not emphasize enough the amount of growth I made as a person from the boarding school environment.
It was quite the experience to transition from being amongst the majority as an African-American male in the Atlanta public school system to being one of the minorities at a highly diversified school such as Rabun Gap. Overall, I had roommates from Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Taiwan, and Australia.
What have you been up to since graduating? Where did you attend school and what is your career?
Upon graduating from Rabun Gap, I attended Winthrop University on scholarship through their Emerging Leaders program as a chemistry major. I was very fortunate to go to Winthrop with one of my best friends Christopher Schakelford ‘08, who was coincidentally also accepted into the Emerging Leaders program. I transferred after my freshman year to Mercer University for family reasons and graduated Cum Laude in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
I decided during my undergraduate years to dedicate my life to helping people in need and was grateful to go on to complete my medical school training at The Morehouse School of Medicine. From there, I went on to complete my intern year at Emory Healthcare, which included superb training and experiences at a number one trauma center in Grady Hospital. I am currently on the tail end of my Anesthesiology Residency Training at The Mayo Clinic and am very much looking forward to a one-year fellowship in Chronic Pain Management that will also be at The Mayo Clinic Rochester.
Are you still in contact with friends you went to school with here?
Yes! The bonds that I made with my close friends at Rabun Gap are life-long. I grew up with my friends, many of whom also started in middle school and graduated from Rabun Gap.
Through sports, extracurricular activities or dorm life, we all laughed, cried, bled, and sweat together. I truly consider my close friends at Rabun Gap my brothers and we remain in contact still to this day. In fact, I was just recently in the Turks and Caicos to visit my goddaughter and will be the best man at Chris Shackelford’s wedding!
Looking back as an adult, what in your mind makes Rabun Gap a special place?
Rabun Gap’s value lies in the amazing staff that they are able to recruit to make it such an amazing experience for students. It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to attend Rabun Gap and one that I don’t take for granted. The college preparatory lifestyle enabled me to take on responsibility and held me accountable for my actions.
I was by no means a perfect student, but Rabun Gap was the perfect structure that I needed to help me learn the most from my mistakes in order to make a better future for myself. I will refrain from rattling off the long list of people that had such powerful impacts on my life for fear of leaving many out but do hope they know that I am eternally grateful and would not be in the position that I am in today without them.
What was the greatest lesson being at Rabun Gap taught you?
The greatest lesson I took from Rabun Gap was how powerful the mind can be and what a shame it is to waste. I learned how to be an advocate for my own destiny. My education at Rabun Gap was where I first started to change my perception of the teacher-student dynamic to more of a partnership in my education.
I was taught to be respectful of authority but also encouraged to challenge what was taught. I still remember many thought-provoking conversations with my professors that left both of us with newly founded respect for one another regardless if I was ultimately right or wrong. These tools were great assets for me when I started college and enabled me to hit the ground running.
What's your favorite memory from Rabun Gap?
I have too many fond memories of Rabun Gap to count but they all center around enjoying the company of my friends.
One memory, in particular, occurred during my senior year while I was a prefect for Bellingrath Dormitory. We had our traditional group bonding event in which we were clearing out and recycling cardboard boxes after everyone had completed moving in. My co-prefect Andrew Wylie ‘08 and I tossed the boxes down from the second-floor balcony while the students down below safely collected and properly disposed of these boxes. After the last box was disposed of, we surprised them with tons of pre-filled water balloons! It was a great bonding experience and I will forever cherish being a mentor to those guys.
What do you miss most about Rabun Gap?
I joked all the time with my friends during my senior year that if I could hit the proverbial “reset” button and start over from eighth grade, I would. While you are in the moment it can be very hard to appreciate just how blessed you are and I can truly say that my Rabun Gap experience was absolutely amazing! I miss being a student and the gorgeous campus. Rabun Gap changed my life.
What advice do you have for current Rabun Gap students that you wish someone told you during your time at school?
I wish someone told me to appreciate how great our cafeteria was! Trust me, my favorite classes were Lunch, Dinner, Math, and Science - in that order!
In all seriousness, however, I would reiterate to the current Rabun Gap students the importance of a great education. It is invaluable. The years that you spend at Rabun Gap will be some of the most important formative years of the rest of your life so enjoy yourselves but also make sure that you are making the most out of this opportunity. There are some things in life that you may regret or wish you could do over but you will never regret working hard so do your best.
Which teacher or coach had the greatest influence on you?
This is the toughest question of them all! There are truly so many.
I could talk about my first dorm parent, the amazing Ms. Wanda Hatcher, who treated me like her very own son from the first moment that I met her.
I could talk about the notorious Professor Jaffe who made my college calculus classes feel like I was back in middle school when he was finished with me.
I could also talk about Coach Cox who pushed me to my absolute breaking point - so much so
that I actually quit the team my junior year out of frustration, only to practically beg him for my spot back shortly after when I realized I had to clean the study hall instead if I wasn't going to play a sport that season. He graciously allowed me to return and started me the next game, where I went on to have my highest-scoring game of the season! Let me shoot coach!
It took a village to get me where I am today and I am not naive enough to fool myself into thinking that I did it all on my own. That is the beauty of this school.
What are your current hobbies and interests? What do you do in your downtime?
I still love to play basketball every Saturday at my church, and to the dismay of Coach Cox I still jack up a lot of threes. I am really looking forward to seeing him on the court at one of these high school reunion games eventually! I also do a significant amount of volunteering at the animal shelter. Last but not least, as a member of the healthcare profession, I am always committed to being a lifelong learner in the field of medicine and continue to learn new and innovative ways to help my patients.