Celebrating Maryville’s Youngest African American Graduate

Rapulu Okolo, age 19, is the youngest African American to graduate from Maryville University.

“I believe education is opportunity,” Okolo said, a lesson she learned from her Nigerian immigrant parents. They came to the United States to seek greater educational and economic opportunities. Her father enrolled in college shortly after moving to the U.S., completing both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Her mother also earned her bachelor’s.

“Their determination and hard work motivates me,” Okolo said. “I understand what it took for my parents to defeat all the odds to be in this country, and then create a path for our family.”

Okolo began her college career as a 16-year-old student in the Early College Academy at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri. The program allowed her to complete her high school diploma and obtain her associate’s degree at the same time.

She came to Maryville to participate in the Rawlings Sport Business Management Program. Okolo knew from an early age she wanted to turn her passion for sports into a career. The Rawlings Sport Business Management Program gave her an understanding of the sports industry through the lens of business, economics, finance and communications.

Okolo also had the opportunity to gain professional experience through volunteer opportunities with organizations such as Rawlings Sporting Goods and the St. Louis Cardinals. “I like that our classes took a hands-on approach when it came to learning,” Okolo said. “One of my favorite projects was working with the St. Louis Cardinals for their season ticket sales. I loved having the opportunity to speak with clients and help enhance relationships.”

Okolo already has her sights set on the future. In January, she began earning credits toward her master of business administration while completing her undergraduate degree as part of Maryville’s Early Access Program. She will graduate with her MBA next spring and hopes to pursue a career in sports technology. “I want to help make dreams come true,” she said.

Though she will leave the Maryville campus behind, Okolo will take a network of Maryville connections with her. She credits her success to the numerous faculty and staff members who served as mentors, confidants and friends. “I found my tribe at Maryville,” she said. “That community of support and empowerment was the most important part of my college experience.”

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