Ask Babatunde "Tunde" Adepegba what his future holds and he'll give you a well-thought-out plan that includes law school, a career as a military lawyer, and ultimately, a position in public office.
"I tell people that I'm running for president in 2036," he says, smiling. "If you're going to shoot for something, you might as well shoot high."
After speaking with him for a few minutes, one gets the idea that Adepegba just might achieve that dream.
He's accomplished much already. Recently nominated to be listed in the 2010 edition of Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, the full-time contracted ROTC cadet with a major in political science and minors in international studies and military science has established himself on the Niagara University campus as a student leader. He is currently serving his second consecutive year as the vice president of the university's prelaw association, and is a founding member and chief of staff of the Diversity Advocates, a student organization dedicated to fostering awareness of diversity issues. Students often seek his advice and support on a variety of issues, and Adepegba is always willing to assist.
"I make people feel comfortable," he says. "I don't judge people, I'm objective, and I'm a good listener."
Part of the reason he is open-minded, he says, is that he has experienced two extremes in his life. His father is a Nigerian immigrant who works as a corporate insurance broker and owns a business in his native country; his mother serves lunches in a school cafeteria. The two are divorced and, while Adepegba lived with his father for a time, he and his brother Ray grew up living with their mother in public housing on Buffalo's East Side. "We never had a car," he says. "We never had a credit card."
What Adepegba did have, however, were dreams. As a member of the junior ROTC program at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, he appreciated the camaraderie and discipline he experienced in the program and knew he wanted to pursue a career in the military. He had always been interested in a legal career as well, and an internship he completed at a law firm while in high school solidified that desire. When he discovered that Niagara's ROTC program was one of the top in the nation, he enrolled with the intent of pursuing both careers.
"I like to be unique," he says. "Being a black male wanting to go to law school to be a lawyer in the military - there's not too many of us."
Adepegba also likes to explore the uniqueness in others. In his role with the Diversity Advocates, he is able to help start conversations that lead to greater understanding and acceptance on the Niagara University campus.
"Diversity is not an easy issue to talk about," he acknowledges, but he is pleased with the success the organization has had in doing just that. From a forum discussing the Confederate flag, to the "Celebration of Unity and Hope" that took place during the presidential inauguration, to the recent workshops that encouraged students, employees and administrators to confront their own belief systems about themselves and others, activities hosted by the Diversity Advocates have facilitated constructive conversations among the Niagara community.
"I am proud of the group and what we are doing," Adepegba says. "We feel powerful in the sense that we can create change."
Being an agent of change is clearly a motivating factor for Adepegba, who says that he hopes to some day be able to speak for people who are not able to speak for themselves. "I feel that if someone can trust me to represent them, that's a great honor," he says. "I love helping people."
For now, however, Adepegba is concentrating on the leadership development course that he'll complete this summer, and on law school applications. Adepegba's performance in the course, an advanced training exercise that the Army holds each summer, will determine what his next steps on his career path will be. If all goes as planned, he'll go on to law school and then complete his service in the military. After that, anything is possible. Even an office in the White House.