Being a college student is a challenge in itself, but being a non-traditional student can come with its own set of challenges. It’s common to see most people completing their college career in their early to mid twenties, unless they are in a highly specialized field that needs additional training. However, as with life, everyone’s educational journey won’t look the same. Some people may start their journey in a “traditional” way right after high school, and have to leave due to personal reasons. Then you have those who may have graduated from undergrad years earlier, but decide later on that they want to go back for another degree.
In this article series, we want to highlight those HBCU students and graduates that either started or went back to college later in life, and give you a look into the life of a non-traditional student.
Ray “Misster Ray” Cunningham
Virginia State University – Class of 2022 (fall)
What inspired you to go back to school?
I’ve always wanted my masters degree in the communications field but I literally started my career in undergrad and I’ve successfully been working professionally in entertainment since 2006. I honestly just never had the time because I was literally going from gig to gig to keep the bills paid. When the pandemic started back in 2020, I noticed education hasn’t stopped just the graduations so I took advantage of the free time I now had for the first time in almost 15 years to refresh my skills and learn some new information about my chosen field. Most of my immediate family are HBCU graduates with the minimum of a masters degree so I had some catching up to do! TV opportunities don’t impress my folks, educational and professional milestones do.
Tell us your story of attending your HBCU and being a non traditional student. What is (or was) the experience like for you?
Not only did I have the once in a lifetime opportunity to film College Hill during my senior year of undergrad at VSU in 2006, I also filmed a featured guest appearance for the rebooted Celebrity Edition of the series my final year of graduate school in the spring of 2022 for BET Networks. Both times, the surprised reaction some students who spotted me on campus would be like “I just saw you on tv, now you’re in my class” The Mass Comm students made every effort to network and ask questions about the industry and how the market was for us realistically aside from what they see on social media. I was even afforded the opportunity to guest teach the Senior Seminar in Mass Comm course during Homecoming week which was really exciting for me as an entertainment professional. Being 15 years removed from College Hill and VSU, I felt humbled that 1) the current students STILL remembered me because technically I’m an “old head” 2) they valued my opinion and 3) I was an in-person example right there in class of the “greater” that happens at VSU and they saw that they too could achieve greater!
What is (or was) life like for you outside of being a student ?
Me being bi-coastal randomly became a hot topic during my final year of graduate school even though this has been the regular for me since 1983. I was often questioned of my ability to dedicate time to everything I was involved in while flying back and forth from California to Virginia to graduate on time. I was taking virtual classes the majority of my graduate program and in my final semester, I had several classes I had to take in person on campus at VSU. I literally put my entire calendar on hold because no gig was greater than graduating. If it wasn’t for a praying 91-year-old grandmother and my time management skills, I don’t know how I could’ve finished this program and all the outside commitments I had (ambassador for NCRF’s Black College Expo, released Yardopoly board game and released an award-winning #1 best selling book on Amazon) while maintaining a 4.0 GPA every semester.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking about going back to college to complete their degree ?
Go get your education and master your craft! The type of education you have leads to different conversations!
Ray “Misster Ray” Cunningham is an author, entrepreneur and media personality.
Follow Ray on his social media platform here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cli318Krkof/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=