Despite Heartbreak and Hardships, Valencia Grad Continues to Pursue His Educational, Career Goals

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Many Valencians have experienced hardships and battles while on their journey to accomplishing their dream of attending college— but few have seen as much heartbreak and loss as Valencia College graduate and Distinguished Graduate finalist, Zachary Onagoruwa.

Yet those obstacles shaped Zachary and continue to mold the young man he is today.

The son of two Nigerian immigrants, Zachary was born in Georgia, but moved to Florida at the age of six with his parents and three older siblings.  In the United States, the family struggled financially, and matters grew worse when Zachary’s father returned to Nigeria to tend to family matters.

Two years after returning to Nigeria, Zachary’s father died in a drowning accident in 2008. The youngest of the four children, Zachary was only eight years old at the time. Suddenly, all the financial and family responsibilities fell to his mother, which left a financial burden on the family.

“My mother would work extremely hard to keep a roof over our heads, but despite her best efforts, we lost the house and became homeless for a while,” says Zachary.

That period of homelessness is something he hopes to never experience again and is one of the reasons why he continues to work hard.

Zachary continued to face many hardships, including the death of his grandfather in 2017. Two years later, Zachary endured the passing of his mother due to cancer.

Zachary says he has dealt with many losses of loved ones but the most devastating, is the passing of his mother.

“I grew up with her all my life… she leaves the biggest impact on me today,” says Zachary.

The following year, 2020, Zachary enrolled at Valencia College and says the reason he decided to attend Valencia is because his mother suggested it. Another factor: Two of his older siblings are Valencia and University of Central Florida graduates.

But that quick transition to college – immediately after his mother’s death – weighed on Zachary. During his years at Valencia, he battled depression, anxiety and prolonged stress.

“I felt pressured by family to excel in college. Each semester, I overworked myself and did not realize it was due to the excessive amount of stress that was unchecked,” says Zachary.

Zachary started at Valencia at the age of 19 and finished his degree in two years. But that pace took its toll.

In hopes of gaining back his mental strength, Zachary found counseling resources through Valencia and says when he was at his lowest point, on the verge of shutting down, counseling through Valencia helped him gain his strength back.

“Counseling unveiled what can help me in my mental struggles,” says Zachary. “I came to a realization that I must understand how to navigate through adulthood, although this is hard without my parents here to help me.”

Valencia staffers also helped him understand how to navigate classes with autism and provided him with tutoring services to help him better understand courses essential to his degree.

Zachary advises anyone planning to attend Valencia to connect with professors and build lasting connections to help them through the process.

“I felt misunderstood a lot of the time and it can be an alienating feeling, so I appreciate the help from every person I built a connection with at Valencia College,” says Zachary.

Zachary advises people who are struggling with their mental health not to rush to complete college. He also advises them to never give up.

“Self-doubt kills dreams bigger than failure,” says Zachary.

During each semester, Zachary wrote down daily goals for each of his classes. To provide more inspiration, he surrounds himself with quotes and posters that motivate him to keep pushing through adversity.

Zachary graduated in the Fall of 2021 after earning his associate in arts degree with a focus on information technology. Now a student at the University of Central Florida, Zachary says he hopes to come up with an IT product that can be useful and potentially merge his hobby of music with his future career in IT.

Zachary plans on running a business and dreams of one day starting a family.

“I can’t change the direction of my wind,” says Zachary, citing a famous quote. “But I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

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