RARE  RISINGSTARS 2014 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 2



BA Theology
University of Oxford
Academia, Student Politics and Community Activism
Richard Serunjogi

Growing up in a home where neither parent had been to university or even completed secondary education, aspiration was low in Tyrone’s home environment. Nevertheless, Tyrone would go on not only to achieve great personal success, but also to become a staunch advocate for the wider community on race, Lesbian‑Gay‑Bisexual‑Transgender (LGBT) rights and other equality issues.

He was born in Oxford to an Irish mother. His painter‑decorator father was the son of a Guyanese immigrant who once worked at the Mini factory just outside the city. Tyrone did his own fair share of hard work too, working for years at the local Co‑op supermarket to help his family make ends meet.

He endured – by his own admission – a troubled upbringing before moving to live with his grandparents at the age of 16, which proved to be a turning point. Whilst he had always been at the top of his classes in the state schools he had attended, and achieved remarkable GCSE grades from a school that was in special measures, the move afforded him the opportunity to win a scholarship and bursary to a local private school.

A withdrawn Tyrone felt embarrassed about his GCSE grades when compared with his new peers and initially struggled with confidence. However he adapted quickly to come through this transitional period and ended up achieving two A*s and one A at A level. He also became heavily involved in student politics during this period as the Member of Youth Parliament (MYP) for Oxford and the city’s Young Mayor.

This passion extended to his time at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he wrote a paper criticising the idea of Israel bombing Iran in the university’s international relations journal. This newly founded interest in Middle Eastern geopolitics by taking part in the One Voice Europe Youth Leadership Programme, focussed on conflict resolution in the disputed territories within Israel and Palestine.

Tyrone is also heavily involved in access work at Oxford, and has spent a number of his vacations working at access workshops in deprived areas of East London. So when Katie Hopkins, a columnist for The Sun and former contestant on reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’, made some typically brash and controversial statements on issues of race and class in the university’s admissions policy, she couldn’t have foreseen how big a mistake choosing the name ‘Tyrone’ to illustrate her point would be.

In an interview with The Cherwell, she claimed that she “wouldn’t want a Tyrone in her tutor group” when she could have a “Cecil”. That is to say, she would favour an upper‑class applicant over a working‑class student. “It’s a case of being true to what you’ve learnt… not many Tyrones I’ve had the misfortune to meet have been terribly nice.”

Unsurprisingly, our Tyrone’s written response was as considered as it was cutting. The episode culminated in him accepting invitations to debate with Ms. Hopkins live on Sky News and at the Oxford Union, which proved to be a great success in raising awareness both for access issues and wider issues of social prejudice.

"I’m passionate about fighting for the poor and oppressed. It’s important to ensure that once you make it, you help the next generation. Everyone deserves a chance in life."

Tyrone has also been an ardent campaigner on LGBT issues since his days as Young Mayor of Oxford, and is currently planning a conference in London to be held later this year. He hopes to organise a day of talks and panels by high profile LGBT Business leaders and politicians, inspiring the next generation to achieve what they can. He is also a member of the local Labour party and sits on the Executive Committee for Oxford East CLP as LGBT Officer.

Despite all of this political activity, Tyrone has never let his academics slip, and also finds time for some hobbies. He is a Pembroke scholar and vice president of the Pembroke Boat Club, the most successful college boating club at the university. He is now about to embark on what will undoubtedly be a successful career in the city, having accepted a training contract offer from leading Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance, and will commence his training after graduation.

"It’s rare for someone from my background to get into somewhere like Oxford. But I really do believe that if you put your mind to it, anything’s possible. Opportunities are out there, it’s just down to you to grab hold and take advantage of them."

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