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UEL Education Studies graduate Jonathan Lofulo seeks to change the world

Cass

Student  who fled war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo as a child graduates with first-class degree

By Kiera Hay

Jonathan Lofulo has been a refugee, a football star and a prison inmate. Now, he’s now poised to take on a new role – a University of East London (UEL) graduate with big plans to change the world.

Jonathan, 28, received a first-class degree in Education Studies at a graduation ceremony at the O2 Arena on Nov 2. 

“This degree demonstrates to me that I’m capable of achieving whatever I want to achieve. I have truly fallen in love with knowledge, and I’m grateful to UEL for giving me this opportunity,” Jonathan said.

“I just want to help people. I believe it is futile to have a degree and not use it. What’s the point of getting knowledge if you don’t use that knowledge?” he said. 

But it’s been a long journey. Born in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Jonathan fled to the UK at the age of 12 with his older brother, who was also Jonathan’s sole guardian, after their house in Matete, a municipality near the DROC’s capital of Kinshasa, was raided. 

The brothers eventually settled in Newham, but life wasn’t always easy. Although Jonathan quickly learned English, he was bullied at school for being different and often wished he could return to the country of his birth. 

Football offered a release, and Jonathan, a talented sportsman, played for a team at Rokeby School in Canning Town. He was scouted by Arsenal football club’s academy, and later West Ham, but said he lacked discipline and was “big-headed” and was eventually released by both clubs. Jonathan said he then began spending more time with friends who “weren’t exactly law-abiding”.

“I thought I’d live my life as a so-called gangster,” Jonathan admitted.

A series of bad choices eventually earned Jonathan a three-year prison sentence for burglary in his early twenties. He ultimately served one year.

“Do I regret it? I do. I immensely regret it. But I embrace it at the same time because it has helped me become the person I am today,” Jonathan said.

“Going to prison was like a reality check. I thought to myself, ‘I want to turn my life around. How am I going to turn my life around?’ And I thought to myself, ‘I could do further education,’” he said.  

After leaving prison, Jonathan applied to UEL but was turned down because he lacked basic qualifications. Instead of giving up, however, he completed the requirements and UEL allowed him to enrol on New Beginnings – a short course that helps mature students without traditional qualifications progress to degree-level study.

Jonathan passed New Beginnings with flying colours and entered the BA Education Studies programme at UEL’s Cass School of Education and Communities. 

Still, doubts crept in about whether he really belonged at university.

“But then I thought, ‘No, I’ve come this far and I want to see this through. What’s the worst that could happen?” he continued.

Not only did the worst not happen, Jonathan became a star student. He said it wasn’t unusual for him to spend entire nights reading and researching in the library. 

Now, armed with a first-class degree, Jonathan wants to continue his studies at postgraduate level and possibly enter academia. He also hopes to one day help the Democratic Republic of Congo establish a system of free education.

“I can’t go to UEL and get my first-class degree in Education Studies and then keep that to myself,” Jonathan declared. 

“That’s not really knowledge,” he said. “I’m supposed to transfer my knowledge to other people and they then transfer it to other people. That’s how you transform society.”