Class of 2014: Lives of Meaning and Purpose
A college journey short in distance, but long in achievement
It’s only a mile from Mount Pleasant High School to Providence College, but in many ways, the distance is great.
Taiwo Adefiyiju ’14 (Providence, R.I.) was a standout student at Mount Pleasant. She sat in the front row of every class to get the most out of it. She selected the most challenging AP courses. She got the best grades. And when she graduated as the class valedictorian, she was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to Providence College.
Then reality hit. Adefiyiju arrived at PC intending to major in biology and to become a pediatrician — a plan she made when her younger brother, Samuel, was born 14 years ago. But the course work was overwhelming, and she received the first “C” of her life.
“Everyone had this image of me,” said Adefiyiju. “I wasn’t doing as well as I did in high school. I thought, ‘I’m disappointing everyone.’ I hated disappointing people. It was hard going to my mom and telling her I was struggling.”
But Adefiyiju did tell. And she remembers what her mother said: “I never went to college, but you can do it. Whatever you need to be successful, we will do. We’ve come so far.”
“She made me cry that day,” said Adefiyiju.
The solution: getting busy
For help, Adefiyiju turned to Michael R. Walsh, then director of PC’s Multicultural Scholarship Program. He told her to think about what had made her successful in high school. Adefiyiju realized that in high school, she balanced her studies with involvement in many activities, finding time to play sports and serve in student government.
So she jumped in with both feet at PC, too.
She played intramural basketball and volleyball and worked as a referee for recreational sports. She advised and supported the creators of the Motherland Dance Group, a student-led African dance group. She became president of the African-American Society and organized a trip to Washington, D.C., to tour the Capitol and historic sites. She helped plan a Black Expo with African foods, dance, and entertainment that was judged “Best Multicultural Event of the Year” by the Office of Student Activities-Involvement-Leadership (SAIL).
The College began to discover her leadership abilities, too. Adefiyiju became a representative on the Student Affairs Subcommittee of the PC Board of Trustees. She was chosen to introduce College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. '80 during St. Dominic Weekend last October, at a dinner recognizing the College’s biggest financial supporters.
Change in major leads to internships
Along the way, Adefiyiju found a new major, health policy and management. She secured an internship in the Human Resources Department at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence and a volunteer position with the Roger Williams Cancer Treatment Center.
Her involvement in the Providence community led her to add a minor, public and community service studies. She served as director of PC’s Step Up Program, which brings boys from San Miguel School and girls from Sophia Academy to campus on Saturdays. The middle school students learn about the high school transition, college life, and lifestyle skills.
She tutored students at Mount Pleasant High in SAT preparation. And every year, she returned to Mount Pleasant High to address students about her early struggles and to encourage them to persevere in their dreams.
“Students like to sit and talk to me”
Adefiyiju’s parents, who work at Rhode Island Hospital, are natives of Nigeria. Taiwo and her twin brother, Kehinde, nicknamed “Kenny,” who is graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy, were born in London and moved to Rhode Island when they were 6.
The adjustment was a challenge, but Adefiyiju’s outgoing nature and determination helped her relate to people. The same qualities were necessary when leaving Mount Pleasant High, where students were primarily black and Hispanic, for McVinney Hall at PC, where she was one of two students of color on her floor.
“I didn’t have a problem at all,” Adefiyiju said. “I had a great floor. I just bonded with everyone. To this day we’re still friends.”
In her junior year she went to work as a resident assistant. As a senior, she was responsible for 55 male and female students in Suites Hall, an apartment-style residence.
“I love it,” she said. “I don’t want to be anyone’s mom and dad but I want them to respect the rules. I want them to learn there are consequences.”
Wherever she goes on campus, Adefiyiju finds, “students like to sit and talk to me. I listen. I say, ‘Tell me what you need me to do to help you.’”
“Strikingly beautiful inside and out”
Kristine C. Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, said Adefiyiju has been “especially graceful” representing students on the Board of Trustees.
“Taiwo impressed me the first time we met and my admiration for her has grown even stronger over the last year,” said Goodwin. “She is strikingly beautiful inside and out and is simultaneously confident and humble. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her parents and two brothers. Spending time with her family helped me understand how she came to be such a remarkable young woman.
Adefiyiju credits her friend, Sharon Cuello, and her brother, Kenny, with supporting her throughout her struggles. They would tell her, “Taiwo, you never give up.”
In September, Adefiyiju will enter a master’s degree program in higher education administration at Loyola University Chicago. She hopes to become a dean of multicultural students, or an administrator, at a college or university one day.
“This is what I love to do and I’m going to make it happen,” Adefiyiju said.
— Vicki-Ann Downing