This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Sope Adeleye went up for a block and everything went black.
“I just got hit in the face,” she said, describing that fateful moment during volleyball practice in October 2018.
Adeleye had performed that jump thousands of times before, but this time her head got there faster than her hands.
She was diagnosed with a severe concussion. The neuroscience major knew better than most that head traumas come with a shadowy threat — an increased risk of dementia.
“So much of where I’ve gone in life is based on what I’ve been able to do with my brain,” she said. “That’s so much of who I am, and the idea of losing that, slowly but surely, that sense of self, the sense of who you are …”
Growing up in Memphis, a younger sister to two athletic brothers and the daughter of two medical professionals — her father is a nephrologist and her mother a nurse practitioner — Adeleye knew she wanted to be both an athlete and a doctor. In addition to volleyball, she played basketball, soccer, and tennis.
Around the same time, Adeleye said, she fell in love with the brain — a sheep’s brain to be exact. The summer before her junior year in high school, she enrolled in a neuropsychology course at Columbia University. There, she dissected a sheep brain and got her first look at how it controls an animal’s behaviors, learning ability, and sensation.
“You have this thing in your head that literally controls everything,” Adeleye said. “We know so much about it, but we also know just so little.”