Reaching goals against all odds

Antonio Gambino is pictured at Jameson Steps during his first year at UCT, in 2012.

Despite having many odds stacked against him, ANTONIO GAMBINO, who was born in Hanover Park and grew up in Ocean View, proved that with determination and hard work, anything is possible. This is his story…

Born in the heart of the Cape Flats in 1993, no one had thought I would become what I am today. Today I am an actuarial consultant for Sanlam, based in Johannesburg and having graduated with a BCom Degree in Actuarial Science.

Life had its ups and downs but the focus was always on the goal which I had set for myself.

I lived in Hanover Park for the first three years of my life after which my parents relocated to Ocean View. My mom was concerned about me when I was at crèche because I was hyperactive. When I started primary school, I became a bully, doing unto others which I did not want to be done unto me.

Over the years, my hyperactive levels gradually decreased. When I started high school a transition took place. I became less playful but still did not work hard at all except for mathematics. During my high school career, I decided I needed to try to change my situation at home.

In Grade 9 I started working hard and became one of the top pupils. In Grade 10, I achieved second position in the grade in mid-year. At the end of the year I obtained first position, which I retained all the way to matric in 2011.

For as long as I can remember I had always wanted to become a chartered accountant. It was my dream to study accounting at UCT and after finishing my National Senior Certificate examination, I did not meet the requirements for accounting but was accepted for my second option which was a BSc in mathematics and computer science. I enrolled for this in 2012.

In my first year at UCT I got distinctions for all my subjects and the following year I got accepted to study a degree in business science finance with accounting. This was the dream I looked forward to and then something clicked.

During the first semester of 2013, I started to ask myself questions about whether I’m destined to be in this stream. I looked at the third year accounting students and saw these thick textbooks they were carrying with index tabs all over them. I asked myself, is this going to be my life?

I thought not so because I would love to use mathematics in the workplace one day. So, I decided to do statistics and mathematics for actuarial science while studying accounting (I was basically studying actuarial science undercover).

At the end of the year, I got accepted to study second year actuarial science because first year commerce degrees are standard across all disciplines.

The year 2014 was incredibly tough because I had to deal with so many subjects. But at the end of the year I managed to pass all my courses and progressed to third year actuarial science.

It was in 2015 that my struggles began. In the first semester, it reached a point where I had to make a choice to save the semester. I had two statistics modules and one actuarial module. I failed the actuarial module and passed all the statistic modules that year. In 2016, I repeated third-year actuarial science and added statistics honours as well as the last modules needed for undergraduate finance. I managed to pass the actuarial module that I had failed in 2015.

The second semester actuarial course was also challenging. I decided to defer the exam to January 2017 due to protest action on campus. By doing so, I gave myself two more months to prepare for the exam.

I wrote the exam and failed.

In 2017, I registered for honours in actuarial science as well as the course I had failed. Things were looking very gloomy in the first four months of the year because I had not received an allowance since November 2016.

I also struggled with accommodation since I was off campus for the first time because I had no bursary for that year.

I managed to get on campus at the beginning of May and gave myself one month to get everything back on track. That did not work out very well and I decided to de-register all of my honours modules. In August I got an internship at Gen Re. I did the internship and the actuarial course simultaneously.

When I wrote the exam, I failed once again. However, since I had passed finance in 2016, I qualified to graduate with a BCom in Actuarial Science specialising in quantitative finance.

What made my university journey academically challenging in the last three years was the need for my unemployed parents to get an income to survive.

I took this need upon myself and started to tutor.

My tutoring blossomed from one-on-one sessions before 2015 to presenting workshops from 2015 to 2017. Tutoring demanded a lot of my time, resulting in me not being fully focused on my degree.

In the end, I have made it.

I remember at the end of 2012, a friend had asked me why I did not want to study actuarial science. I told him it was impossible and that it was for smart people. He said nothing was impossible. I did not believe him at the time.

It turns out that he was right.

According to my matric results, I achieved an average of 73% and two distinctions. It is definitely impossible to study actuarial science with these results but nothing is impossible with God because He made it possible.

I sat next to the smartest students in the country (according to the NSC and IEB results) but that never fazed me.

I am very grateful for the people in my life who stood by my side through thick and thin. I would not have made it without the necessary support which, played a crucial role in me staying focused on the goals I had set for myself.

I want to tell anyone who is at university or in high school that anything is possible. One of my favourite quotes is, “If you have a setback, don’t step back but make a comeback”.

Never allow your circumstances to dictate your future and never blame other people for the circumstances you face.

Take responsibility, take the blow and show determination to change your circumstances around you because you have a purpose.