Meet the 2022 Graduates Nominated to Give Student Messages for This Year’s Commencement

Emily Barrett and Hilary Bentman, associate directors of communications
Headshot images of Gavin Poole and Kripaya Varghese are combined side by side.
Gavin Poole and Kripaya Varghese

Gavin Poole ’22, economics and finance

Ask Gavin Poole about his time at Widener and he has a lot to say.

“I felt like an individual, not a number in a crowd. People who gave me the campus tour said that, and once I was here, I saw it wasn’t just a show. It’s Widener,” said Poole. “It’s made me the man I am today, and I wanted the next generation to feel the same way.”

Poole’s desire to pay it forward led him to become an Ambassador – giving tours to high school students – as well as a C.R.E.W. Leader, to help newcomers acclimate to campus. 

His time at Widener was also marked by leadership development through his involvement in Phi Delta Theta fraternity, which he steered through the height of the pandemic and remote learning as chapter president.

But when it comes to Poole’s other big campus role, he was noticeably silent… until now.

For the last year, Poole has been the person inside the Chester mascot costume, a closely guarded secret he’s now willing to reveal since he’s days away from graduating. Poole took on the role because of a love of acting, and one day Melrose (whose identity Poole continues to hold close to the vest) reached out and asked if he was interested.

“I fell in love with the character, seeing the smiles on people’s faces, the inside jokes with students who don’t even know it’s me,” said Poole, whose favorite memory is of a small child at Homecoming calling him “cool” and inviting him to their birthday party.

As Chester, Poole represents Widener well, bringing energy and goofiness to the role.

“I love the unique experiences it has brought me. And you take up the mantle of the university.”

After graduation, Poole will work for the accounting firm EisnerAmper in financial administration. He credits his Widener professors, including the now-retired Professor Karen Leppel, for “setting me up for four years of success. The professors and staff were always available and they had a lot of industry knowledge and connections.”
Succinctly put, “I wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience.”

As for his advice for his fellow grads: “Widener is always going to be here for us, so don’t forget where you came from and show your Pride.”

Kripaya Varghese ’22, master of social work

Like many of this year’s social work graduates, Kripaya Varghese is determined to make a difference in her community. 

The Northeast Philadelphia native grew up in the Indian Orthodox Church and experienced firsthand the cultural barriers around discussing mental health and well-being. 

“A lot of time in religious settings mental health is something that isn’t talked about,” Varghese said. “It was difficult from a cultural standpoint to even say ‘you know, I’m having a rough day or a bad year,’ it just wasn’t spoken about. I really want to be a driving force in changing that especially for my diocese that I’m a part of.”

Enrolling and now earning a graduate degree from Widener’s Center for Social Work Education has equipped Varghese to be that driving force to lead an open dialogue focused on mental health, particularly for youth in religious settings.

“Widener really helped prepare me with that information in terms of how to approach spirituality in social work … and learning that there is a connection between the two and that a lot of times it’s just getting that conversation started, and I want to play a role in keeping that conversation going,” Varghese said.  

Reflecting on the past two years, Varghese underscored the impact that program faculty made on her academic career. 

“The social work faculty make you feel so welcomed and they’re open to what students want to talk about and make happen.”

From feeling supported from day one, to going above and beyond during the transition to remote learning in 2020, Varghese attributes her rewarding student experience and academic achievements to her professors.

“Starting off [remotely] was intimidating and I was worried, but I had the greatest professors in that first semester who really helped to make sure that one, students felt comfortable, and two, made themselves available at any time whether it was during, before, or after class,” Varghese explained. 

As this year’s graduate nominee to give a student message, Varghese wants to encourage her fellow graduates to harness the resiliency developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and feel empowered by their Widener education.

“We are pandemic students and if we can do school in a pandemic, we can do anything in the world,” Varghese said. “What we’re giving to the world is a reflection of what Widener has given to us.”

Click here to see Gavin and Kripaya’s Video Messages

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