A Life-changing Education: John Olatunji on his Bursary from Christ's Hospital
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A Life-changing Education: John Olatunji on his Bursary from Christ’s Hospital

From Southwark to J P Morgan, John Olatunji, 25, pays tribute to Christ’s Hospital, a co-educational boarding school in West Sussex, known for fostering social mobility through bursaries.

Christ’s Hospital, West Sussex. Photo credit: Toby Phillips

I grew up in Southwark in south London, which like many inner-city areas has its socio-economic challenges and pressures. In order to avoid the local influences, my parents decided to send me to an all boys’ comprehensive school in central London which, takes pupils from all over London. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time there (and I have since returned as a school governor), the academic and co-curricular provision post-16 was not adequate at the time.

During a day trip to Cambridge my local vicar suggested that I apply to Christ’s Hospital (CH), a co-educational boarding school in west Sussex known for its high commitment to fostering social mobility through bursaries. I was aware of CH having watched Rock School, a 2005 reality show starring Gene Simmons from Kiss who in one series turned CH’s year nine into a fully-fledged rock band. Also, I had known a couple of individuals who had moved there from my primary school. To be honest, I expected strong competition and was not confident about getting through the application process.

On the day of my interview, one of my family members sadly passed away, although I was not aware of it at the time. Such was their determination not to let anything distract me, my parents did not inform me of the news until I had returned home. A few weeks later I received my CH offer – a light during a difficult period. My family, friends and teachers were absolutely delighted for me, but the sense of achievement did not really hit me until I started.

John Olatunji

My first day was like no other. I was 16 and it was my first time boarding and being away from home, so I was naturally apprehensive. I recall pathetically attempting to get to grips with elements of the Tudor uniform and giving up (in the end I had to ask a junior to assist). Later that day the evening chapel service ushered in the new academic year. I was in awe of the masters and mistresses in their full academic gowns. I thought to myself – this is another world.

My first day was like no other. I was sixteen and it was my first time boarding and being away from home, so I was naturally apprehensive… I thought to myself this is another world

John Olatunji

I was fortunate to join a boarding house of such loving and caring individuals, some of whom are my very best friends today. They made me feel very welcome and treated me like family, as if I had been there since second form (year seven). While academic achievement was my priority, I sought to embrace all aspects of school life from playing rugby to joining the chapel choir. This enabled me to make friends quickly and assimilate myself into school life. A proud moment came when I was appointed by the Head Master as a School Monitor (prefect), which requires strong support from teachers, house-parents and fellow pupils. I was humbled that many felt that I was right for the role given I had only joined at sixth form.

The next step was university. CH provided an excellent preparation for university life, hence I was able to balance extra-curricular activities with my degree studies with relative ease. While at university I entered the world of student politics and I was elected a Black and Minority
Ethnic Students Union Officer. I used my platform to fight against racism and elitism which is sadly still prevalent in Britain’s leading universities. Following university, I joined a leading US investment bank, J P Morgan, Chase & Co on a rotational graduate scheme and I am currently working within the global transaction banking division.  

Upon reflection, I only truly realised the privileged position
that I was in and the opportunities afforded me after I had left. CH truly fosters a meritocratic environment, which has enabled individuals from different backgrounds to flourish in the pursuit of excellence. I will always be grateful to the school for giving me, a son of Nigerian immigrants from south London, a truly world-class education.

This article was originally published in School House: Scholarships & Bursaries Magazine in January 2019.

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