Chris Gray, Ph.D.

Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

Tommy Clanton, a member of our first graduating class here at EC3, is actually seeking a pardon for some mistakes in his past.  He’s on a path to redemption for his past wrongs.

The power of redemption is a force that has the capacity to transform lives, heal wounds, and inspire hope, and Tommy came to us at EC3 to harness that power. Redemption is a concept deeply rooted in the belief that individuals – ALL individuals – are capable of change and growth, no matter how deep their transgressions or how bleak their past may seem. Contemplated in this light, none of us is beyond redemption.

That said, redemption is not easy.  It is a journey, sometimes long and meandering, and often requiring both immense courage and self-reflection. This is how it was with Tommy.  It began with acknowledging his mistakes, taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions, and seeking forgiveness from those affected by his misdeeds; Tommy has done all of this, and he’s not one to shirk or deflect responsibility from himself where his past is concerned. He’s also working to forgive himself.  This process demands humility, and Tommy has been walking a path of true transformation.

In Tommy’s case, he knew that his past actions were leading him in the wrong direction; he readily admits thinking that he should have been and done better.  And while his actions ultimately led to his incarceration, that’s not where his story ends.  Tommy made the decision to change his life – not just for himself but for his children.  The child of a single parent himself, Tommy decided that he wanted to set an example for those who depend on him; he wanted to be a father of whom his children can be proud, and he wanted to be proud of himself.  

Redemption is never solely an individual pursuit; it is a testament to the power of human connection and compassion, and such is the case here. Tommy’s commitment to change resulted in him coming to EC3 with the goal of rebuilding his life around a renewed sense of purpose. He came to us with the mission of expanding his business and graduated with a degree in business management.  As Tommy says, “Your mistakes don’t tell the whole story.”  He changed his story, and he changed his life.  

Personally, I’m so inspired – not just by Tommy’s redemptive path, but also by the fact that he is willing to share his story to help others.  One of his greatest hopes is that someone who is struggling right now will witness his journey from darkness to light and come to believe in the transformative power of change and resilience. Just as was the case for Tommy himself, this belief in the possibility of something else instills hope and encourages others to believe in their own potential to be redeemed for their past mistakes.

While Tommy’s is a story of a single struggling soul’s path to redemption, I can’t help but think that this power of redemption that Tommy embodies extends beyond him as an individual; it has the potential to ripple through families, communities, and even societies. Tommy has changed himself, our college, and our community.  We’re a better community because Tommy has made us so.  

As we were preparing for graduation earlier this month, we told a community leader how we were going to feature Tommy’s story at commencement.  After this individual heard a bit of Tommy’s background, he asked me, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”  I didn’t think twice in my reply.  I simply said, “That IS who our students are.” I’m so proud of that!

It’s stories like Tommy’s and so many others that make us the community’s college. Tommy’s redemptive path culminated in an Associate of Applied Business Degree in Management and Entrepreneurial Thinking; he graduated with High Honors.  I’m so very grateful to share his story and to have been part of his journey back.  Please join me in congratulating Tommy!