Leading The Way: CCHS’s Chuka Esiobu Moves On To Harvard Leading The Way: CCHS’s Chuka Esiobu Moves On To Harvard
BY ALYSSA FISHER After an hour of wolfing down burrito bowls, it is nice to say that I finally know Chuka Esiobu. Practically a... Leading The Way: CCHS’s Chuka Esiobu Moves On To Harvard


After an hour of wolfing down burrito bowls, it is nice to say that I finally know Chuka Esiobu. Practically a legend at Cooper City High School, I’d only heard about him, knowing that he was the genius National Honors Society president, class Valedictorian and Homecoming King. But as he sat across from me at the local Chipotle, looking completely natural in his Harvard sweatshirt, I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him sooner.

I have never had to convince anyone to let me write a feature on him or her, but when it came time for me to ask Esiobu, I found myself practically begging. I didn’t understand how someone so important to the students and staff could consider turning down an article about themself. As I soon found out, he is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, not wanting to boast about his achievements, of which there are certainly many.

Earlier that day, Esiobu didn’t just walk, he strolled into Ms. West’s first period AP Literature class donning the Harvard sweatshirt. It was his first day back since his trip to Cambridge, so the sweatshirt served as a sign of his final college decision.

“When I put it on this morning, it just looked good,” he said with a laugh. “I felt so great walking into school knowing all those years of hard work paid off. I didn’t do it for nothing.”

Esiobu applied to a whopping eleven schools: Harvard, Yale, Washington University, Duke, Georgia Institute of Technology, Columbia, St. John’s University, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, M.I.T. and the University of Florida. He got into all of them, forcing him to choose between each prestigious university. Despite popular belief, Harvard wasn’t the obvious choice; Esiobu wanted to keep his options open, especially since he had originally wanted to attend Johns Hopkins University.

“It’s humbling,” Esiobu said, after he recounted how he threw his acceptance letter in the air, so shocked by it’s content and that he had to let it soak in for an hour. “Just the caliber of people there is inspiring. It was really cool to visit a place full of people with so many accomplishments. And it’s beautiful, right in the middle of Boston. Once I visited, the answer was clear.”

Esiobu’s parents weren’t surprised he got into every school he applied to, knowing that as a perfectionist, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. They were thrilled with his decision, falling in love with the school during their visit.

“Harvard is a great match for Chuka,” his mom Diuto Esiobu, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, said. “I know he’ll have a great education, and they will meet all his needs. Walking through campus, we saw many students bubbling with zeal. They were so passionate, which is how I know he will fit in very well. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Esiobu may have been surprised he got into Harvard, modestly stating that “no one applies thinking they’ll get in,” but his future has looked bright since he was a young child. Quiet and introverted, he never had to be asked to do homework; it was just something he enjoyed. He especially took an interest in math and science. But while he was studious, he also loved to participate in sports, though they weren’t something he was always able to do.

When Esiobu was born, he was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, a disease passed down through families in which red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape. His blood cells couldn’t carry enough oxygen, making it hard for him to play.

“I’ll never forget when he was four years old and came home from preschool one day and said to me, ‘Mommy, I came in last again. I can’t run,” Mrs. Esiobu said. “He had the desire to go out and play sports. It broke my heart.”

Soon after, Esiobu underwent a bone marrow transplant, which successfully cured him of the disease, making him only a carrier of the trait. It took him a full year to recover, but once he did, Esiobu didn’t just run; he flew. Although it worried his mom, Esiobu started to participate in soccer, basketball, football and track.

“It was the miracle of science,” Mrs. Esiobu said.

Esiobu grew up like a normal child after the transplant, dreaming of playing for the NBA or becoming an astronaut. In middle school, he became more social as he found new interests, like making and listening to music as well as playing sports for Cooper City Optimist.

“He was a delight of a child,” Mrs. Esiobu said. “He was dedicated and absolutely lovely. Humble, too. I don’t know what else a mom could ask for.”

The only problem was trying to get him to say ‘no,’ because he always wanted to help people, even doing his three older siblings chores. He has always been philanthropic; since he was seven years old, Esiobu requested that instead of birthday parties, he wanted to donate money to benefit Sickle Cell Anemia.

“He’s very compassionate,” Mrs. Esiobu said. “While his other siblings would split the money we gave them to buy presents for Christmas and use some for themselves like we suggested, Chuka would spend all of his money buying gifts for others. He was always so generous and kind-hearted.”

His friends look at him in the same light, noticing his potential and valuing his friendship.

“Some friends influence you in the wrong way, but he influences me to be a better person,” senior Efosa Aburime, who has known Esiobu since they rode the bus together in middle school, said. “He’s always trying to help others do the right thing.”

Senior Marina Donyegro, who has known him since Kindergarten, has no doubt going to different colleges will not change their friendship.

“Chuka always strives for you to be your best,” Donyegro said. “He brings out the best in people and is one of the few people who is genuinely happy for you when you accomplish something. Even when I spent a semester studying abroad, Chuka was one of the few friends who kept in contact. He is one of a handful of people I know I will remain close to even after we leave for college.”

While he learned about giving on his own, he did gain a lot from his older siblings, following in their successfully academic footsteps. His brother is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and is now a computer engineer, his oldest sister is in Yale medical school and his other sister is studying pharmacy and nutrition at the University of Florida.

“They were my example,” Esiobu said. “I tried to take what I learned from them over the years and apply it to myself.”

With goals of achievement in mind, Esiobu strived to do the best he could and made his way to the top of the class.

“I was just trying to get straight A’s and have an impressive schedule,” he said. “Being number one in the class didn’t mean that much to me.”

An impressive schedule is an understatement: Over the course of his high school education, he took 15 AP classes and one to two Broward College courses per semester, plus one to three classes each summer, though he’s not concerned with the exact number of his GPA, which is 5.44 (he had to look it up on his cell phone). While most students are happy with coasting during their senior year, Esiobu took five AP classes. Although he is “as chill as they come,” according to his freshman and sophomore gifted English teacher Suzie Margolin, Esiobu does get stressed out.

“Too much of anything will cause stress,” Esiobu said. “It takes a lot of trial and error. You have to know yourself and make sure to set aside time for leisurely activities. Then you will do well.”

To alleviate school stress, Esiobu typically hangs out with friends, listens to music, sings, plays basketball or exercises.

“I’m still so surprised how he manages his time,” Mrs. Esiobu said. “I stopped intruding because he has such amazing stamina and plans his time efficiently, even staying up until all hours finishing his work. I don’t even know how an adult could do what he does.”

He’s not planning on slowing down any time soon. Esiobu is already starting to think about how many majors he can have in college. Right now, he’s considering going into biomedical engineering and becoming pre-med, seeing himself going medical school and getting a PH.D. in the future.

In addition to all his school work, Esiobu played on Cooper City High’s varsity basketball team and was involved in DECA, Spanish Honors Society, Science Club and was National Honor Society president, in which he used his position to give back to Sickle Cell Anemia in a project called Reshaping the Sickle. Back in 2008, Esiobu and his mom planted the seed in his doctor’s head to contact the Nigerian government about starting a bone marrow transplant program in hopes of reducing Sickle Cell in Nigeria. This past December, Esiobu went to Washington D.C. and met with his doctor and members of the Nigerian government. To help, he raised money through the NHS program, made an informational brochure and talked to local groups about the disease. He’s nominated for a Silver Knight Award, but that wasn’t the goal. He hopes to continue raising funds and awareness in college to help Nigerians take back their lives like he did.

Jorge Ditas, Esiobu’s 10th grade AP Calculus AB teacher and NHS adviser, watched him lead Reshaping the Sickle and was more than impressed.

“He is definitely a leader and the first to help people,” Ditas said. “He was also great as president, getting projects together and going to all the tutoring sessions.”

Esiobu and Ditas will also share an alma mater. Ditas not only attended Harvard in 1996, but also he lived in Wigglesworth, the same dorm Esiobu plans to live in.

“He doesn’t need any words of wisdom; he’s going to do great,” Ditas said. “But he does have to get his organizational skills together. Despite that, he still manages to get everything done.”

Esiobu is known for his disorganized backpack, and you can always count on him to dig through a mess of papers to find the right one.

“Chuka’s been a great peer; we’ve been in many classes together, so I know he’s a very motivated, though disorganized student,” senior Jensen Joseph said. “But he’s also enjoyable to be around. He has set an example that hard work really does pay off. I’m proud of Chuka and glad I can call him a friend.”

According to Ditas, there is something magnetic about Esiobu, causing people to want to clap for him when he enters a room. It’s that sort of attention that made him Homecoming King this past year.

“To be honest, I have no idea how the clapping started,” Esiobu said. It used to make me uncomfortable, but then I started embracing it, almost like a joke.”

Esiobu’s personality shines when he’s with his friends, proving he’s more than just an academic wiz. He does a lot with Joseph, from working on things for NHS to playing basketball and just hanging out.

“He’s someone who is really enjoyable to be around,” Joseph said. “He has a great sense of humor and is extremely friendly. And whenever possible, I try to get him to rap.”

Acknowledging how much of a longshot a singing career is, Esiobu doesn’t see pursuing it as practical. Yet, music is a huge part of his life, from singing in church to recording raps he has written at friend’s houses. He listens to everything, including hip-hop, R&B, gospel, electronic and Nigerian music.

“I have a passion for the industry,” he said. “It’s an easy way to express yourself.”

Esiobu’s peers recognize how much he does both in and out of Cooper City High. His ambitious drive and determination to reach above and beyond is not only apparent, but also infectious. To honor his hard work and important presence in the school, the senior class voted him Most Likely to Succeed. No matter what he chooses to do, it is clear he will thrive.

“He has built his success,” Margolin said. “I watched the construction go up, but it’s not completed. He only laid the foundation. Now we have to see what it looks like.”

Mrs. Esiobu always reminds her son that nothing we own is our right, we achieve what we achieve based on our opportunities. She believes one in particular was the chance for him to attend Cooper City High.

“I’m so lucky my children went to CCHS. I just want to give a big thank you to all Chuka’s coaches, teachers and our family friends whose influence helped mold him.”

As we polished off our burrito bowls and the conversation reached its end, I looked at Esiobu’s genuinely happy face. For all he has going for him, he is so down to earth, so levelheaded. He has remained true to himself and he has worked hard for everything he accomplished in each aspect of his multitalented life. He is capable of achieving greatness, and he has me and the entire school rooting for him, anxious to see what disease he will cure or the next scientific breakthrough he will discover.