Notes from the President

Chris Gray, Ph.D. | Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

This week, I want to diverge a bit from my normal content and share my deep personal gratitude to EC3’s past Board Chair, Mr. Ron DiNicola, Esq. While Ron’s term as a founding Board member came to an end earlier this week, his commitment and unswerving passion for the community college and its mission will never fade.

Ron’s leadership in advocating for community colleges and their work is truly admirable. He served as the Chairperson of the EC3 Board of Trustees for the past two years, but he has been the leader of the movement that led to the formation of EC3 for nearly a decade. Quite simply, without Ron DiNicola, I don’t believe we would even be here today.

At our most recent Board meeting, we honored Ron’s leadership and service in this video. I encourage you to watch it in its entirety. It does a much better job honoring Ron than my words will be able to. But, I’m going to try nonetheless, and I’ll do so in the form of an open letter:

Dear Ron,

Thank you so very much! On behalf of future generations of Erie County residents, thank you. Your passion, your advocacy, your fight, and your ability to unify our entire community for OUR community college are the stuff of legend. Your commitment brought disparate forces together to rally around the crazy idea that everyone deserves access to an affordable college education. Your vision for EC3 has changed the future.

As you transition from the Board to the next chapter in your support of Erie County Community College, please know that I am a better educator and a stronger leader because of you. While many have had the chance to see you serve as the public champion for EC3, I have likewise had the opportunity and the privilege to work closely with you over the last year. During that time, I have seen how your selflessness, leadership, and character shape who you are.

Your resume is staggering: you’ve been a Marine, a Golden Glove boxing champion, a graduate of both Harvard and Georgetown, and a successful attorney with an unparalleled client list. And you’ve fought tooth and nail to make this dream come true for Erie County. I’m humbled by the fact that, if it weren’t for leaders like you, our students’ lives would be so different. You’ve changed the future for so many. Life’s opportunities are open to you, and yet, you have chosen to fight for the little guy. Thank you!

Thank you as well for your leadership. You and Andre pulled together the supporters, clergy, and business community, and you took the fight to Harrisburg. You listened; you made strategic decisions; you fought like hell. And you won! As the founding Board Chairperson, you successfully navigated treacherous political waters and built a supportive foundation on which to build Erie County’s own community college. You took nine newly appointed Board members, many with differing or conflicting visions of how the community college would be formed and shepherded them together into a cohesive team. You led them as they worked to create bylaws, determine structure, and get the college up and running in just a few months! That you were able to unify these nine disparate voices with no college staff or internal support and then to transform our Board into an effective governing body speaks to your immense leadership.

On a personal note, I need to thank you for your friendship. I grew to know you first as my boss. I’ve come to value you as a leader and a mentor. I’ve relied continuously on your advice and counsel. And through it all, you’ve also become my friend. You are a kind, compassionate man with a true heart and a genuine concern for others.

I’m not letting you off the hook that easily, though. While your time as our Board Chairperson has ended, EC3 still needs you to keep pushing, keep fighting, and keep believing in this dream. You are part of us and always will be. Thank you!

Open letters are sometimes a tricky business because it can be challenging to figure out what to share, and I’ve given this a lot of thought because Ron has done so much for so many. To begin and end the letter with expressions of gratitude feels so inadequate given the depth and breadth of service that Ron has offered to us. And yet, it’s what we have to offer. We hope, Ron, that you will accept our humble expressions of gratitude and know that we will continue the good work that you’ve begun.