From Oakland to New Haven: Yale grad gives shout-out to The Town

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A brand new graduate of Yale University and product of Oakland's public school system is celebrating what he calls the best four years of his life and is giving some love and a shout out to his beloved home city.

Akintunde Ahmad graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 2014 with a 5.0 grade point average. In addition to Yale, he received offers from other top universities including Brown, Columbia, and Cal Poly. 

His academic success made national headlines and his story was even picked up by Ellen DeGeneres who featured him on her show. 

On Friday, the 22-year-old posted a photo of himself in cap and gown with his diploma in hand with these moving and inspiring words: "'Can you believe that? A kid from Oakland walking around and believing in fairytales'. Attending Yale truly has been the greatest four years of my life."

And he expressed his gratitude to Oakland and to those who helped him along the way.

"To my family, friends, peers, mentors, teachers, and MY CITY! I can't thank you enough," Ahmad wrote.

To many, including former teacher Marybeth Gould Tullis, there was no doubt Ahmad would make it big.

Tullis was Ahmad's 2nd grade teacher at Chabot Elementary School in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood. 

The former teacher has been following Ahmad's journey and educational path and said she always knew he would be a superstar. 

"Basically, my hope was to clone him," Tullis joked. "A true leader from an early age! He was quiet but had an impact!" 

Ahmad told KTVU his experience at Yale, where he was a sociology major, was full of growth.

He also said his experiences growing up in Oakland helped him during his years in New Haven.  

"I think the most important thing it gave me is to have a persevering spirit," Ahmad said.

In his youth, there were events and struggles he had to endure that helped shape that persevering spirit.

"Growing up in Oakland exposed me to a lot of violence and adversity," Ahmed said. "My father is a survivor of multiple gun shots, and when I was 16 my older brother was also shot, which he survived," Ahmad explained.

These hardships helped him with any adversity he came across in college. "No matter what I was dealing with, rather it be difficult classes, losing more friends to gun violence back home, or issues of racism, diversity, and inclusion on campus," Ahmad said. 

His mother said her son has always shown strength in his ability to focus and work hard even amid difficult situations.

"He took the SAT after a close friend got shot," Zarina Ahmad recalled. 

Zarina Ahmad is also a product of Oakland public schools and is principal at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School in Oakland. His father, Mubarak, has long worked at AC Transit as a mechanic, which Akintunde noted is where he gets his own love for classic cars. 

Zarina Ahmad told KTVU that as a child her son was good at reading and writing but above all has always been extremely focused. "He really valued education," she said.

The youngest of six kids, he also learned by watching. "Being able to see his older siblings navigate gave him tools as well," Zarina Ahmad added. "I'm very proud of him. He's always been dedicated, hard working and... always been a humble kid."

In fact, mom joked because of her son's humble nature, there are often times it's through others she ends up hearing about some of his big accomplishments.

What's next for this kid from Oakland?  He's been accepted to Columbia University where he will pursue a master's in journalism, specializing in documentary filmmaking.

His advice to other kids who are "walking around and believing in fairytales," especially those who may be facing struggles or limitations around them: "Be confident in whatever you do... most importantly don't be afraid to try new things," the Yale grad said.

It's a lesson he learned when he first dared to seek a placement at one of the top universities in the world.  

And no doubt he'll continue to carry with him the lessons in his youth as he begins this next chapter of his life. 

"I never faltered in my academic pursuits," he said, "because I had a persevering spirit instilled in me by the Oakland that I grew up in."