An old proverb recently made its way on to Randy Dunham’s radar: a rolling stone gathers no moss.
“To me, that means you have to keep moving – you have to set goals, be assertive, and be focused,” he said – and today, Dunham lives that lesson.
Graduating with honors from Columbia-Greene Community College on Saturday, May 18, Dunham, of Haines Falls, N.Y., has earned an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Social Sciences with a concentration in Psychology. He had a choice of institutions and programs to which he could advance, and will continue his studies next fall at The College of Saint Rose, with the goal of pursuing a career in higher education.
By his own admission, however, Dunham’s future – and his own perception thereof – has not always been so bright.
His secondary-school experience was less than stellar; he was first held back in the seventh grade, and again following his junior year. Dunham says many factors lead to the outcome, among them absences and poor grades brought on in part by struggles with depression, toxic relationships, and a lack of motivation.
“Things were really going downhill,” he said. “I doubted every action I made, because I just didn’t think I was good enough to get it right. I didn’t know if I could graduate, and I didn’t know if I should even try.”
A lover of tools and tinkering with cars, Dunham looked for solace in working outside, making constant improvements to his vehicle, and soon, nurturing a budding relationship with his girlfriend, Abby. He said he began to realize that being productive also made him happy, and his view of his self-worth began to shift for the better.
Then, Abby offered the kick-start: a dose of tough-love.
“She said, if you don’t graduate, we’re not dating,” he remembers. “It was just that simple.”
Her ultimatum in mind, Dunham pulled double-duty his last year in high school, taking both junior- and senior-level courses in a bid to finish with his peers. His grades still wavered under the pressure, but he stayed focused on moving forward by addressing his goals one-by-one.
As commencement day neared, though, he found himself with one box left unchecked – the passing grade in U.S. Government he needed to earn his diploma, somehow delayed from being entered into his official record.
“I didn’t know if I even had a passing grade,” he said. “Talk about bringing it in right under the wire; the grade came in the day before graduation, I barely passed, but it was enough to graduate – last in my class.”
He’d achieved his goal, but there was another bonus in store. To keep rolling during that uncertain time, Dunham applied for scholarships he might use to further his education – maybe a class or two, he thought – in the event the scales tipped in his favor.
“My name wasn’t called with the other scholarships, so I figured it didn’t happen and that was fine,” he said. “But then at the end of the ceremony, the Principal announced there was one more last-minute scholarship to be awarded, and it was a full-ride. For me.”
That scholarship, the Ethel and Orville A. Slutzky Memorial Columbia-Greene Community College Scholarship, allowed Dunham the rare opportunity to enroll at C-GCC with the benefit of full tuition – and it was a gift he was determined not to squander.
“My first semester, I kept to myself – kept my head down and studied,” he said. But Dunham completed that semester with a 4.0 grade-point-average, and gained the confidence to branch out into other areas of campus life.
Gradually, he became one of the most recognizable faces on campus and within the SUNY system. As a freshman, he joined the Student Senate and the Psychology Club – serving as an officer for both – and the student workforce, as a peer tutor and aide.
He helped raise funds to assist Ah Tua Teo of Hudson – a former C-GCC adjunct faculty member paralyzed in a motor vehicle accident – through the Pie-the-Professor Challenge, and co-presented a workshop at the SUNY Student Assembly Conference titled Quality in Diversity: Empowering Leaders of Tomorrow, all while maintaining Dean’s-list-level grades.
As a sophomore, Dunham’s contributions to the college only multiplied. He created a ‘Positivity Board’ in C-GCC’s HRBTF Student Dining Hall, on which any student, faculty-, or staff-member can leave words of encouragement as part of the college’s wellness efforts. He was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for two-year college students, presented with the 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, and perhaps most notably, served as an appointed member of the Presidential Search Committee charged with leading the process of identifying C-GCC’s sixth president.
These and countless other achievements culminated in Dunham earning C-GCC’s highest student honor this spring: the Omnia Award, named from the Latin root omnium, meaning ‘good in all things.’
Abby kept her promise, too – after high school graduation, the couple continued to date, and are now engaged with a wedding planned for this July.
Throughout his career at C-GCC, Dunham has remained forthcoming about his struggles of the past, to the point that he’s developing a new strength as a motivational speaker.
“My goal is to inspire those who think they can’t make it,” he said. “To inspire those who feel they have no worth, whether that’s by working with students who are confused and struggling, or speaking at events and showing others the passion that I have after all I’ve been through.”
In fact, his latest address on the topic signaled a full-circle moment for Dunham. His audience was the graduating class of 2019 at his former high school, and his speech was titled Overcoming Hardships.
Indeed, it was an important stop in Dunham’s journey, but he remains quick to move on – gathering momentum, with no signs of slowing his roll.