OAKLAND -- When 18-year-old Akintunde Ahmad walks down Piedmont Avenue, he notices people staring at him. He stands just over 6 feet tall, wearing track pants, gold chains and long dreads.
"If you looked at all the store cameras, you'd see all eyes are on me," Akintunde said. "Purses shift to the other side."
When he walked through the hallways at Oakland Technical High School, teachers and the school police officers would sternly ask him what he's up to and tell him to go to class, he said. Their demeanor was gruff. Though he ranked among the top 3 percent of the class, some who didn't know him treated him like a thug.
But now that the media has widely covered his academic achievements and pursuit by Ivy League and other top universities, that's changed.
Akintunde had often been underestimated based on his appearance, but he's earned a 5.0 GPA and scored 2100 out of 2400 on the SAT.
"People became all smiles. 'We're so proud of you!' But I've been the same since freshman year," he said.
Akintunde graduates and will head to Yale in the fall with an academic scholarship, which he announced on "Ellen." What he will study is still up in the air. Akintunde said he's weighing economics or biology and perhaps law school afterward.
"I had no dream school, no dream job. My goal has just always been to help people in some way," he said. "If you keep all your options open, you don't miss out on opportunities."
Akintunde stays busy. He plays basketball, but has been focusing on baseball because he'll play on Yale's team. He played outfield at Oakland Tech and was named MVP of the Oakland Athletic League last year. He's a musician too -- playing the French horn, the trumpet and the djembe, a West African drum, and singing with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra.
"I think it helps being well-rounded. Having school, music and sports give me structure, so I don't have time to fall off," Akintunde said. "It's like tunnel vision."
Many of Akintunde's friends and classmates have found trouble, dropped out, been shot or killed, but his focus has kept him on track. His older brother, who was on the honor roll, is incarcerated. He invited Akintunde to a party, but Akintunde declined because he had an English essay to write. There, his brother and four others were shot.
"My brother is also hella smart," Akintunde said, "but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
As the youngest of six, he's learned from all of his older siblings to stay focused in school and to associate yourself with like-minded and positive people. His core group of friends are other motivated students with similar athletic and educational goals.
His friend 17-year-old Cris Castillo plays baseball, too. When they hang out, they often study or work out together.
"Keeping light company is helping us all achieve our goals," Castillo said. "We know ourselves. Once we got together in high school, we all helped each other."
Akintunde's mother, Zarina Ahmad, attributes her son's success to his wisdom.
"He's a young man with an old soul," she said.
Ahmad, who is the principal at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School, was his kindergarten teacher. She said that ever since he was young, he's been determined.
"He'd stay up until 12:30 at night working on a paper, then knock on my door. 'Pst, Mom. Will you proofread this?' I'd tell him, 'In the morning,'" she laughed.
Akintunde hits the books when he comes home from school, a routine Ahmad said that she emphasized.
"When my kids came home from school, they know that you have a snack, and then you start studying," she said. "I'm a backer of kids and education and am a strong believer that education is a way to open doors and make things better for all people."
However, she said that sometimes she feels African-Americans often don't see doors opening and that a story like Akintunde's shows otherwise.
"You can wish upon a star all you want. The only way you'll find success is if you work hard," he said.
Staying humble, Akintunde said he's happy that his success can shed light on the achievements of many other African-American students in Oakland, but he's just one example.
"People will rise to what is written about. If crime and violence are what's written about, that's what people will gravitate toward," Ahmad said. "There's the African-American Honor Roll here. It's packed with like 1,000 kids who have a 3.0 or above. But you never hear about it."
Oakland Tech Principal Staci Ross-Morrison paid Ahmad what she says is the greatest compliment she could receive as a parent. Ross-Morrison told her that 'Tunde, as everyone calls him, and his friends have made being smart and going to school cool.
He'll always be a bulldog -- the mascot for both Oakland Tech and Yale.