Michael Okwilagwe, affectionately known as Big Mike, joined Mount Vernon in 2016 for his senior year. We caught up with him recently to hear his fondest memories as a Mustang, what he’s done since graduation and his thoughts on where the future might take him. This is Mike in his own words.
When I joined Mount Vernon as a senior, I didn’t really think I would be where I am today. I struggled through my junior year and was skeptical about joining a new school, new environment, new football team, and new everything so late in the game.
It turns out, that was the best move I could have made. I had teachers who believed in me, a community that loved me, and friends that I cherish, which was able to propel me to be where I am today.
I now live in Austin, Texas working as a Channel Systems Engineer for Fortinet, the largest cybersecurity company in the world. My focus is on consulting partners and clients to secure their network infrastructures.
I plan on working for the next 3 – 5 years in my current role before making my way back to school to get my Masters in Business Administration. I will be studying intensively for the GMAT so I can attend one of my top three choices for business school: Harvard, Penn, and Stanford.
I owe a lot of my success to the support and knowledge I gained at Mount Vernon, and the relationships I have developed since my senior year and throughout college,
After graduating from Mount Vernon in 2017, I played Division I Football at Georgia Southern University for my first year before transferring to Georgia State University to focus on Academics and be closer to home. I had an extensive internship path throughout college. I gained a lot of experience, but it all started with that first internship I got in the summer of my first year at school – which was working with a Mount Vernon parent. That experience at Insight Global as an IT specialist set the foundation for my career. This led to several Fortune 500 internships throughout my time in college: Cox Communications, Boston Consulting Group, Amazon Web Services, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, US Bank, and Adobe.
One of my strongest assets is relationship building, which is an integral part of my career. Mount Vernon provided so many opportunities for me to meet with people from a variety of networks and I learned how to build relationships and see things from a different perspective. It was my mission to stay in contact with the people I met since I just never knew how or when I would cross paths with them in the future.
At Mount Vernon I was academically challenged. For the first time, the work I was doing was challenging me. The toughest class I had was taught by Melvin Feng. To this day I tell people that while it was hard, it taught me how to think. I didn’t realize going into college that knowing how to think would be an important skill.
I learned time management as well as money management at MV. Because of GTD (Getting Things Done) I was able to learn how to effectively manage my time. I use the principles and self discipline I learned from when I was at MV in my professional and personal life.
I was given the resources and push that I needed to become successful. Dr. McCubbin was not only my biggest advocate but also my biggest supporter. Having her by my side I was able to believe I could do anything I set my mind to.
In fact, my fondest memory of Mount Vernon was the senior retreat. I had just transferred and I hadn’t made many friends outside of the football team at the time so I was super nervous going. I remember Dr. McCubbin smiling at me and telling me everything will be okay as she could sense how nervous I was. That week In the Great Smoky Mountains, I was able to make the best memories with my senior class still to this day that I cherish. We laughed, smiled, cried, and connected with one another. I will always hold the way the MV family opened their arms to me and accepted me dear to my heart.
I would share the following advice to current MV students: Make good choices. Coach Dabbs and Coach Hill hammered this into my head from the first day I stepped foot onto campus. As you embark off to college Mom and Dad, Coach Dabbs, and Dr. McCubbin won’t be there to help you make choices. We all make mistakes but learn and reflect from and move on.
Note from MV: When we think about Mount Vernon and all who will graduate, there’s a certain responsibility that the School has to help launch these students into their next phase, whether it’s college, gap year, or career straight away. There’s only a certain amount of credit that can be given to the School. At Mount Vernon, we provide the opportunities for all students to figure out what it is that they want to do. Big Mike absolutely maximized every single opportunity that was presented before him. This comes from within, from personal drive, confidence, security, and familiarity. He was in a position to take every single opportunity presented to him and maxed it out. Great job, Big Mike!