When Ndidi Anyaegbunam spoke with students last Monday and Tuesday during her visit to Main Campus, they didn’t just want to hear her speak—they wanted to be her.
“That was probably the most common response I heard from students,” said Scott Gratson, the director of the communication studies program. “‘I don’t want to just be in touch with her, I want to have her life. That’s what I want to do with my career.’”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in political science from Temple in 2003, Anyaegbunam went to Harvard Law School and landed a job as a Programme Officer developing policies at the United Nations.
“Sometimes, when you look at just a name and a bio, you think, ‘This person has it all figured out,’” Anyaegbunam said. “So my favorite thing when I go back [to Temple] is to say, ‘No, I didn’t have any of it figured out. I was exactly like you guys. I was sitting there wondering what the heck I was going to do and making wrong decisions.’”
Now, Anyaegbunam works in the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, on “all issues with Africa’s development,” like food security, poverty eradication, gender equality and youth employment. She’s currently working with the U.N. on Agenda 2063, a 50-year plan for peace and development in Africa.
“Because these issues are so incredibly complex, and because the world and its development is constantly changing, what happens is you’re always learning,” Anyaegbunam said. “You never know enough. There’s always new information, a new reality.”
Anyaegbunam’s learning began her freshman year at Temple in 2000. A student in the honors program, she said she found the most value not in her easiest classes, and not in her hardest classes, but in the classes that fell into a unique sweet spot—those that challenged her and left her thinking about the issues she discussed long after class ended.
“Temple is really good about encouraging you to learn for the sake of learning, and experience for the sake of experiencing,” Anyaegbunam said.
Gratson taught one of these courses, “Argumentation,” which he said is one of the most difficult courses taught at SMC.
“[That class] deals with current events, effective writing, effective speaking, constant test-taking,” Gratson said. “For Ndidi, it was kind of like reading the back of her hand.”
Gratson added she was one of the only students who delivered an “absolutely, pristinely perfect performance,” even catching him on a grammatical error on one of his exams.
“That is a role model right there,” he added.
“Temple has done much more for me than I ever did for it,” Anyaegbunam said. “I owe it to the student body to pay it forward.”
During her visit to Temple last week, Anyaegbunam spoke in a “Philosophy of Law” class and Gratson’s “Rhetorical Criticism” class. She also gave presentations about law school, working at the U.N. and her time on Temple’s debate team.
“Debate represents some of the best things at Temple: diversity, competition, intellectual rigor, and it also represents a fighting spirit,” Anyaegbunam said.
“Ndidi is willing to help us,” said Anh Nguyen, a sophomore journalism major and vice president of finance of Temple’s Debate Society. “That creates a sense of family and belonging for the whole team. … She spoke to us as a friend to a friend, not as a mentor to a mentee.”
After her graduation from law school, Anyaegbunam struggled with rejection. She encouraged current students never to shy away from rejection, explaining that it’s a necessary step in getting your dream job.
“Anybody whose job you want, anybody whose path you admire, the vast majority of them are sitting on a mountain of ‘noes’” she said. “Build your own mountain of ‘noes’ on the way to your ‘yes.’”
“Nobody writes in your obituary the jobs that you didn’t get,” she added. “What they write about are the things you did do. They write about the yeses.”
As far as Anyaegbunam’s obituary is concerned, she’s not quite sure what will be written there yet. She is certain she wants to make a positive change and be happy.
“There’s a certain level of wanting to have ultimately left the world a little bit better than I found it,” Anyaegbunam said. “If that’s done, I’ll throw myself a little party, and everyone can come.”
Michaela Winberg can be reached at email@example.com.