A Little Band Music and a National TV Spot Give Accepted Student a View of Her Future

High school student in red shirt at center surrounded by members of the Rutgers Marching Scarlet Knights
Old Bridge High School senior Lola Adeleye (center) exults with members of the Rutgers Marching Scarlet Knights after announcing on the Today Show that she will attend Rutgers in the fall.

High school senior chooses to attend Rutgers on the Today Show

As soon as she heard the signature pounding of the bass drums, Lola Adeleye knew something had changed.

Then a flash of color – red, black and white – streamed before her as the Rutgers University Marching Scarlet Knights trooped past playing Rutgers’ upbeat fighting song, “The Bells Must Ring.”

Time stopped, the Old Bridge, N.J., High School senior said.

“I knew I was looking at my future,” said Adeleye as she recounted a fateful moment that occurred during her appearance on the NBC News Today Show Wednesday, May 1.

High school student in white sweater and red top smiles
Lola Adeleye of Old Bridge will attend the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in the fall. She hopes to study medicine when she graduates.

Standing on the plaza in front of Rockefeller Center in New York, and ringed by a cheering throng that included her family, Adeleye was participating in a segment marking National College Decision Day. Only she and Today news anchor Craig Melvin knew what she was going to say in her surprise announcement.

Extending the dramatic tension for an instant, Melvin asked Adeleye how hard it had been to make her selection.

The choice was easy. “You know,” she said. “Once a Knight, always a Knight.”

She still was not giving anything away, she reasoned. Not everyone, after all, knew that Old Bridge High’s mascot, Sir Obie, is a knight, just like Rutgers’ Sir Henry, the Scarlet Knight.

Then Melvin, describing Adeleye as “quite the exceptional student,” unfurled a Rutgers banner, called for a drumroll and announced, “Lola is going to go to Rutgers! Rutgers! The State University of New Jersey!”

Today news anchor Craig Melvin stands with Rutgers banner with student Lola Adeleye holding the other side.
Today Show news anchor Craig Melvin (left) helps Old Bridge High School senior Lola Adeleye make her surprise announcement on College Decision Day.

Music swelled for Adeleye and, in a big surprise for the senior, the Rutgers mascot Sir Henry marched before her, leading the Marching Scarlet Knights. Melvin, Adeleye and the other show hosts and participants exulted in the music. Adeleye’s red top, white sweater, jeans, and red high top Air Jordan 11s matched the moment.

“I remember the band coming out and the reality hitting me that, oh my gosh, I just announced I was going to Rutgers on national television,” she said. “It was great. The producers had said, ‘We’re saving you for last, there’s going to be a big banner,’ and then there was this surprise. I looked at the band and thought: ‘This represents the next four years of my life.’”

So many students from Old Bridge High attend Rutgers, Adeleye said, that the university – a mere 14 miles away – is often referred to by township residents as “a second Old Bridge,” she said. Her decision to attend Rutgers, however, was a conscious, purposeful one, not a choice based on what others were doing, she said.

“I really researched Rutgers for its academics and found out all kinds of interesting stuff, like how it’s ranked 15th among public universities in the nation,” she said.  “What solidified the decision for me was seeing the campus on ‘Admitted Students Day,’ and attending events like a meeting of the Black Students Union. I could see myself living there, attending this university for the next four years. I knew it was right.”

While she found it daunting to speak extemporaneously on national TV, Adeleye said she was able to sneak peeks at her father and mother, Bayo and Doyin Adeleye, and her best friend, Marie Chandler, who stood smiling nearby for moral support.

Members of the Rutgers Marching Scarlet Knights line up in front of Rockefeller Center.
Members of the Rutgers Marching Scarlet Knights, along with their director, Todd Nichols, and other staff members, arrive on cue to the plaza of Rockefeller Center in New York to surprise Lola Adeleye, soon to be a fellow student, with a performance of the Rutgers fighting song, "The Bells Must Ring."

Some 31 student performers of the Marching Scarlet Knights, along with Director of University Bands Todd Nichols, Associate Director Julia Baumanis and two staff members, gathered at Rutgers’ Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway at 4:30 that morning to arrive in New York on time for the show. They conducted a full rehearsal in Rockefeller Plaza at 6:15 a.m. and sheltered after in a nearby NBC building. Their actions were choreographed to the second: Minutes before the segment featuring Adeleye and the other students was to air, the band moved outside and hid a block away until they received a signal for the reveal.

“I was really happy for the students,” Nichols said, who led the band in November to perform on national TV during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “They were super excited to surprise Lola and welcome her to RU.”

Adeleye was one of three high school students selected by the Today show’s producers for a “Celebrating College Decision Day” segment on the network morning show. May 1 is typically when high school seniors nationwide are asked by colleges to commit to their first-choice school.

Today co-host Savannah Guthrie described Adeleye and two other students who appeared – Jenny Dove from Hauppauge, Long Island, who will attend Hofstra University, and Benjamin Robinette from Omaha, Nebraska, who chose Notre Dame University – as “outstanding seniors.” Each student was awarded a $5,000 gift card from Macy’s to go toward items needed for college.

Adeleye, whose favorite subject is calculus, is an honors student who has excelled in her classes at Old Bridge High School. In addition to other courses, she is taking three AP classes: calculus AB, biology and English. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, and the English Honor Society. She is vice president of the senior class, and an active member of her school’s Black Student Union.

She will attend the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in the fall and plans to go to medical school when she graduates to become a pediatrician. Her parents and her three older brothers are all in the finance field, she said. She wanted to do something different.

“For me, being around kids has always been such a joy,” she said. “Also, I’ve always had such a great pediatrician. I would love to be like that for a little kid and make going to the doctor’s office a fun place to go rather than a scary place to be.”

Ethan Thai, now a rising sophomore at Rutgers, participated in a similar segment last year on the Today Show, where he was featured breakdancing after announcing Rutgers as his choice. In August, Today show anchor Craig Melvin documented Ethan’s move-in day to his dorm room.