- As a 17-year-old in Ghana, Thomas Ayodele chose a life of adventure
at sea over his father's edict that he earn a university degree.
four decades later, The University of Southern Mississippi student
is enjoying opportunities across the coast, bringing his affinity
for the ocean together with his father's academic goals.
Ayodele is at the university's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in
Ocean Springs, studying barrier island ecology, oceanography and
marine biology. His academic work with Southern Miss at Gulf Park
in Long Beach earned him a place on the spring semester's Dean's
List, and he will finish his degree in mathematics in December with
a minor in industrial engineering and biological sciences. He plans
to work toward a master's in physical oceanography with the Southern
Miss Department of Marine Science at Stennis Space Center starting
of three brothers and three sisters, Ayodele spent his childhood
in the seaport city of Takoradi on the west African coast.
"I grew up in two cultures. We lived in Ghana, but we were
Nigerian and carried on Nigerian traditions. My people say the 'sea
never dries. Wherever there is the ocean, there is always going
to be some kind of hustle going on.' Daddy always said, 'Live close
to the ocean, and you will never starve.'"
of the sea included Ayodele's friends, mostly merchant seamen.
would come home and talk about Europe, America, the Far East,"
Ayodele said. "They always had a lot of money, and some of
them couldn't even write their names. I thought, 'if they can do
that, then I can do even better. I can go to school overseas.'"
Once he finished
high school, his choice to become a merchant seaman meant he had
to leave home. His father, a top official in the Ghana railway system,
was firm that "you finish high school, you go to the university,
and you get a degree."
at the first job offered by a ship. He fudged on his age, passed
for an 18-year-old, got a passport and shipped out on a Greek ship.
After encountering his seaman friends in Germany, he signed on with
German ships. The pay was better, and he worked with German companies
for the next 13 years, traveling around the world on the huge oceangoing
He wound up
on the Mississippi Gulf Coast through a job on a ship that delivered
bananas from Central America to Gulfport every 10 days. There followed
a marriage, a daughter and two sons - and finally U.S. citizenship.
Through it all he maintained his professional connection to the
sea. That ended in 1990, when circumstances mandated that he become
sole caretaker of his children.
would not give custody to a sailor," Ayodele said. So, he gathered
up his resources and purchased a farm in Saucier so that he could
be at home during the day for his kids. He sold pine straw to landscapers
and grew and sold farm produce. He also acted on his father's original
plan for an education.
of my father's philosophy, I had wanted to save money and go to
college," he said. "I got my GED and started at Jeff Davis
(Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College)."
Soon, he transferred
to Southern Miss on the coast. Now, with his children well on their
way toward independence, a master's in oceanography seems like a
real possibility. He anticipates that his ocean going in the future
will be via computer, working on numerical models of ocean systems.
is a valued milestone in a life that fulfills his name. In Nigerian
his family name means "Joy has arrived into my home."
been easy," he said. "It was just me and my kids. Like
everything in life, you have to work hard. You might not get it
when you want it, but it will come."
"A bachelor's degree at 54? Only in America! I thank God every
day that I made the right choice and came to America. Work hard
and believe in yourself. Never ever give up. It will happen; it
will happen," he said.