I am just a kid from Nkawkaw, Ghana. I was raised by a single mom and as a young boy I helped my mom at her shop selling women clothing and shoes. At that time, I had some reservations working while my cousins and friends played and had a good time. But in retrospect, those were the most impactful years of my life – I learned how to communicate effectively, influence without authority and build relationships with people from all walks of life. My mom sacrificed a lot to raise 4 children by herself. That really inspired me to excel in school and my goal was to get a full scholarship to senior high or the university so that my mom would not have to pay school fees. I graduated with perfect Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) score in Junior High School and perfect West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) score in Senior High School, but I was unsuccessful in securing a full scholarship. Lesson: your WHY will keep you in the process when the outcome seems unattainable!
A childhood friend, Fred Yeboah, introduced me to the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) – a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. Fred encouraged that he believed I would score very well on the SAT which could help me secure a full scholarship to study in the US. I shared this information about the SAT and scholarship with a peer at that time and he retorted, “why would a US school give a black kid a full scholarship when they don’t even know you?” That demoralized me for a moment but then I thought – what do I really have to lose if I tried? Afterall, getting a full scholarship and ensuring my mom doesn’t have to pay my school fees aligned perfectly with my goal. Lesson: ignore the naysayers; when something is really important to you, the odds don’t matter!
So, I wrote the SAT and started my applications to colleges in the US but I needed 12 transcripts to apply to apply to my 12 schools. When I visited St. Peters Senior High School to purchase my transcripts, I had enough money to pay for 11 transcripts. That meant I had to take one school off. The last school on my list was Alabama State University (ASU). As I began striking ASU off my list, one of the headmasters/principals came and asked, “Kwame Asante, how can we help you today?” I told him about the SAT, the transcripts and my plans. He paused, thought for a minute and said, “because of how you served while you were here, your transcript fees will be waived.” That was the miracle I needed because, that kept ASU on my list of schools and ASU was the ONLY school who gave me a full scholarship. Honestly, a full scholarship was the only chance I could attend college in the US. Lesson: Serve wherever you find yourself; your miracle is in your service!
At ASU, I served as a golden ambassador, president of the Beta Kappa Chi Honor Society, student council senate, vice president for campus programming board, tutor for physics, humanities and history, and still graduated with the highest academic honors. From there, I got accepted into the number 5 pharmacy school in the nation per the U.S News & World report, University of Florida College of Pharmacy. There, I served as president of the Industry Pharmacists Organization, president of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, student ambassador, class representative, member of the Dean’s taskforce and still graduated with academic honors. Lesson: you can do more than you think if you give yourself a chance!
I have recently started my career as a senior specialist at Organon & Co. a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck & Co – an American multinational pharmaceutical company. I am looking forward to all the opportunities, challenges and good people life brings my way.
What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?
Right from the start, my journey was a little different from those around me and so my biggest hurdle was just accepting my path and managing the opinions of others. Accepting my path meant I had to leave home and the people I love after 21 years – that was really hard!!! More, I had to leave medical school at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. I met some of the best people in medical school, and I am still in contact with some of them till date. These were really hard decisions to make at that time. But most times leaning into uncertainty, taking the road less trodden and believing the dots will connect in the future is what really makes all the difference.
What books are you currently reading?
I love reading books. I believe books are the easiest ways to get access to some of the wonderful mentors in the world. Some books I recommend: The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho), The Four Agreements (by Don Miguel Ruiz) and The Third Door (by Alex Banayan). Oh, and one bonus one: Can’t Hurt Me (by David Goggins).
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I was very lucky – my mom, my siblings and my uncle (affectionately called, Nafak) were very supportive. Honestly, I still don’t know if my mom really understood that I was swapping medical school for a degree in biology at that time. All she asked was that I made her proud and be a good boy. I took that challenge, and the rest is history!
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success?
People!!! Yes, people! I am here because I have leaned on the shoulders of others, and I have been directed by the wisdom and love of others. I will share one story: On August 2013 as I made my trip from Ghana to the US to embark on my educational journey, I missed my flight from Atlanta to Montgomery, AL. When Delta Airlines graciously put me on the next flight, I got to Montgomery but ended up stranded because I had missed the school transportation that was scheduled to pick me up from the airport that morning. A friend I had made on the plane who was traveling from New York to Montgomery decided to give me a ride to my school at the risk of being late for an important work meeting. The provost of my college seeing how appreciative I was of my friend gave me an advice that have stuck with me for more than 7 years:
“Andrew, you will hear many stories of unfair human experiences while you are here in the US. But remember you only need a few great people to have a great life.”
I have been very blessed to have great people in my life.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?
1. Most people would help if you asked well…
2. Failure is a required ingredient in cooking a successful life…
3. This is not about perfection; its is about progress through learning and unlearning…
What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
Well, I struggle with this part because I think my experience is limited and I am young and still learning.
But a few suggestions to consider:
1. Most people are generally good – while you give yourself the benefit of the doubt, please do same for others.
2. Life is a one-time journey: strive to be all you can and be of value to society.
3. Being young and energetic is the best time to take risk, push the limits of your potential and meet some really cool people around the world.
4. Resist dogma – living with the results of other people’s experience or thinking. Take advice only from people who you will happily swap places with.
5. “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of…” Nelson Mandela.