Meet the Graduates who will Share a Commencement Message with their Fellow Members of the Pride

Emily Barrett and Jessica Reyes, assistant directors of communications
Photos of Priscilla Adenugba and Evan Figueroa-Vargas
Evan Figueroa-Vargas and Priscilla Adenugba were chosen by their peers to deliver video messages for commencement.

Commencement is the crowning achievement in a student’s academic career. To mark the occasion, we asked the Class of 2021 graduates to nominate an undergraduate and graduate student to deliver a video message as part of the upcoming celebrations.

The chosen graduates are Priscilla Adenugba and Evan Figueroa-Vargas.

Priscilla Adenugba, bachelor of science in nursing

If you’ve spent time on Widener’s main campus in the last four years, chances are you’ve engaged with Priscilla Adenugba. 

Since joining the Pride as a freshman in 2017, Adenugba has been involved in an array of student organizations across campus. Whether through her capacity as a Resident Assistant (RA), Pride Activities Council (PAC) member, or C.R.E.W. leader, Adenugba’s mission has been to help her fellow undergraduates navigate their time at Widener.

Her reason? To replicate the network of support that transformed her undergraduate experience. 

“I’ve been so blessed to have had a really good support team around me that saw what I didn’t see in myself: that I was motivated, high functioning and that I was able to get things done,” said Adenugba. 

I love seeing that in people and helping to support them to become a student leader like I did on campus. —Priscilla Adenugba

Adenugba’s instinct to care and support others is a natural fit for the nursing field she is about to enter. 

As a nurse, Adenugba is focused on caring for patients beyond the physical bedside needs. During an African-American Studies class freshman year, Adenugba learned about the disparities that Black women encounter in routine procedures, such as child birth. Learning about the inequalities and discrepancies that still exist in health care inspires Adenugba to break down barriers in the system. 

“I knew I was in the area that I needed to be in to advocate for people, especially those who are experiencing hardships that they shouldn’t be,” Adenugba said. 

Self-described as a freshman who was once terrified of starting an IV, Adenugba looks back and is equally humored and amazed at how far she’s come thanks to the nursing program and the Widener community that she has grown with over the last four year. 

“I’ve met a lot of people along the way and it’s been a great four years.”

Evan Figueroa-Vargas, master of social work

Evan Figueroa-Vargas never expected to graduate from high school, much less college or graduate school.

As a person with a mental health disorder, history of substance abuse, and felony conviction, the odds weren’t favorable. However, Figueroa-Vargas’ life shows the power of recovery and education, and is a source of inspiration to others as he graduates with a master of social work from Widener University.

Since 2012, I’ve dedicated my life to recovery and the educational journey, with the ultimate goal of servant leadership. I was not supposed to make it this far, but now I want to act as a beacon of hope for others who have been written off by society. —Evan Figueroa-Vargas

The Philadelphia resident’s story is one of hope.

He used narcotics for six years and was involved in the criminal justice system. After time in prison, he turned his life around and got involved in recovery support services in 2012.

“I didn’t even have a GED at 30 years old,” Figueroa-Vargas said. “I had no where to go and no formal job skills or education when I started outpatient treatment.”

Figueroa-Vargas went on to earn a GED and to graduate from Eastern University with a bachelor’s degree in organizational development. He then enrolled in Widener’s MSW program, and was attracted to the program’s flexible online format, as a busy working father of five children.

With the support of his wife Darlene, he excelled in his courses at the university and persevered even after testing positive for COVID-19 and losing his father-in-law to the disease last spring.

As one person noted in the nomination of Figueroa-Vargas, he has “made tremendous strides in his life” and has a “true passion for assisting individuals to live their best life possible.” 

He wants everyone to know that recovery is possible and continues to use his platform and voice to advocate for others. He works as an employment systems program analyst for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, and serves as a board member of the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, Unity Recovery Community Organization, and Pathways to Housing PA.

“I’m proud to be this person, and I’m now living a way better life today than I ever was before,” Figueroa-Vargas said.

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