RCC Alumni Spotlight: Gordon Tolson

By contributing writer, Jennifer Rose Bryant, RCC Class of 2020

Gordon Tolson is a successful graphic design professional and he enjoys the opportunity and lifestyle his career provides him and his family. Rappahannock Community College was the first step of many on an educational journey that led Gordon to this point. He says, “Community college is like a genie in the bottle. Everything you could want in academia but less expensive.” He goes on to relay the importance of bettering oneself, “You’ve got to put your name in the hat. You’ve got to work for it. Don’t let anyone or anything deter you from being great. Don’t bend! Stand up to the possibility of your potential!”

Gordon grew up in Farnham. His fascination with innovative thinking and the power of imagination motivated his interest in creative fields such as engineering, architecture and the arts while fueling visions of his future. For Gordon however, the rural environment sometimes left him feeling a bit confined, ostracized and occasionally overlooked. As a young Black man growing up in the rural South, it felt to him like living inside a Rubik’s cube, constantly shifted by social constructs. Race and circumstance could have ushered him on a much less aspiring path if not for some positive role models, including his loving mother and supportive father, as well as his own “extreme ambition, drive and will to succeed.”

His mother inspired him from a young age in so many ways. She could draw anything. The first thing he remembers her drawing was Dumbo, the Disney elephant she recreated from a VHS tape of the movie. She also had strong work ethic and a keen understanding of psychology and art, and encouraged these natural affinities in her son. Sadly, his mom was diagnosed with a chronic illness while he was still in high school. His mother’s illness remained a substantial challenge throughout graduation and into his college years, but with his family’s support and his mom’s overall strength, he made it.

Sources of encouragement were also found at Rappahannock Community College. Upward Bound coordinator Wilma Tynes said to him early on, “if you succeed in college, you will be able to call the shots.” Gordon made the National Dean’s List and was recognized as one of RCC’s top students, granting him the opportunity to sit with state representatives and delegates at a Legislative Dinner. His professors at RCC challenged and inspired him simultaneously. Calculus Professor George Heffernan taught Gordon how to capture complicated formulas and how to work smarter, not harder. Political Science/History Professor John Paden was an “awesome teacher who encouraged students to think outside of the box; and to know that there was so much more going on in the world beyond these cornfields.” With family and friends in attendance, Gordon graduated from RCC in 2006. The foundation to his future had been laid.

The following year Gordon attended Old Dominion University, where he was nominated as one of ODU’s Best and Brightest students out of 20,000 students to be considered for the USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team. Interning at the Naval Safety Center provided him with excellent work experience before graduating in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design and a marketing minor.

Now with many years of career experience behind him (he’s been the lead designer for big corporations, worked with many interesting people, including celebrities, and has done lots of travel for work) he’s found the perfect remote career situation. His resume includes organizations such as Lockheed Martin,

Segal Benz and Deloitte. Gordon says his career has been a consistent outlet for his ambition and creativity.

He cites his greatest accomplishment to date as being a dedicated husband and father, “Beyond my career, my little family is my heartbeat.” Today he lives in Maryland and looks to the Northern Neck with an appreciation that only home can bring. In 2017 his mom transitioned from this life. In her last days she acknowledged his tenacity saying, “There’s nothing more you could do to make me anymore proud of you than I am right now.”

Growing up his mom always said, “Practice makes perfect. Never quit on yourself,” and from that advice Gordon crafted his future. He thought, “I’ll imitate the best, until I become the best.” His advice to young people today (or anyone who hesitates to enroll at their local community college) is this: “Imagine who you could be if you believe in yourself.”

Gordon’s path from Farnham to the success he enjoys now is paved with motivational role models and affirmations. His advice to everyone? “Never let yesterday challenge your actions today because tomorrow is where the magic happens. If you’re not great at something, work on it. No one cares about your excuses, only your solutions. Find real-world examples of excellence and emulate.” Gordon adds, “RCC is an ideal starting block. Avoid extreme debt by taking advantage of the low cost; enjoy small classrooms and the brilliant community. Rappahannock Community College is powerful and relevant. Spread your wings!”

Vaughan Crittenden

RCC Alumni Spotlight: Vaughan Crittenden

Vaughan CrittendenVaughan Crittenden has always moved fast. As a student at Rappahannock Community College (RCC) and then James Madison University (JMU), he never tired of his fast-paced life. Between attending classes, doing homework, and racing with the Hampton Roads Kart Club, Crittenden was always on the go. It’s what he’s used to.

Crittenden, a Middlesex native, attended RCC for two years then transferred to JMU through the Guaranteed Admission Agreement (GAA). As a student, he always worked toward his goal of obtaining a position somewhere in the fast-paced world of NASCAR. While still in college, he spent much of his free time at Langley Speedway in Hampton where he served as the director of communications, public relations official, on-track announcer, photographer, video guy, and driver.

“I’ve been racing for 17 years,” said Crittenden. “I drove a pro-wing champ car, which is basically a very souped-up go-kart with a wing on it.” During race weekends in the spring and summer, Crittenden competed against 30 other cars. At the end of his race, he jumped out of his car and continued working at the same pace the rest of the night. “My division, because we are smaller, was always the first race of the night. We raced our 20 laps, then I would run out to the trailer, grab my phone and computer, and run up to the press box. There are many times where I was running around the track doing media in a fire suit,” laughed Crittenden. “I raced around all night long!”

His hard work off the track garnered him attention from those in NASCAR venues outside of Langley Speedway. In addition to his duties with Langley Speedway, which included detailed work on social media as well as rebuilding the track website, he was invited to work a race weekend at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. “I took pictures at Pocono all weekend long during their Cup race,” said Crittenden. “And it ended up that the last day, Sunday, was when Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. won. I was actually able to get a selfie with Dale Jr. in victory lane!”

Crittenden took some time to reflect on what his experience at RCC meant, and just how much those two years in the Associate of Arts and Sciences Transfer Degree program helped him find his path. “The best thing about RCC is that it’s a great way for those who are just heading to college to figure out what they want to do, on their own without being rushed,” said Crittenden. “You’re not at the big four-year institution where you’re spending thousands of dollars a year not knowing what you want to do,” he said. “RCC gives you time to think and without blowing the bank. It is a great local opportunity.”

“RCC did wonders for me,” said Crittenden. “I struggled in high school and RCC gave me a chance to regroup, and I was able to figure out what I wanted to do.”

After graduating from JMU, he worked as a photojournalist for WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, and founded his own video production firm Riverdale 24 Productions. He then landed a job at Richmond Raceway as its Manager of Communications. In February, Crittenden’s career came full circle when he was named Promoter and General Manager

for Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway, making him among the youngest to serve in this role in the NASCAR Roots Division.

“Going to school at RCC really helped me get on the path that I am on now.”


Re-Employ Virginia (REV)

REV AdRappahannock Community College (RCC) is offering free tuition and training for residents whose employment status has been affected by COVID-19.  Residents must act by December 14, 2020 to take advantage of this exciting opportunity that is funded through the state’s new Re-employing Virginians (REV) Initiative. 

Visit www.rappahannock.edu/REV to learn more, find eligible programs, and sign up for assistance from a College navigator who will walk you through the funding and enrollment process. You can also call RCC FastForward Program Developer Kelly Clifton at 804-758-6794.

The REV Initiative, recently announced by Governor Ralph Northam, is leveraging $27 million in CARES Act funding to provide training vouchers for students pursuing high-demand fields, which at RCC are: Healthcare, Information Technology, Manufacturing, Public Safety, and Skilled Trades.

The vouchers will pay up to $3,000 for tuition and fees for full-time enrollment in an eligible certificate or degree program or up to $1,500 for tuition and fees for part-time enrollment in an eligible certificate or degree program or for a FastForward short-term credential program.

Individuals wanting to participate in the program will be asked to certify in writing that they received unemployment benefits on or after August 1, 2020, or that their employment was adversely impacted by COVID-19. For instance, the individual is currently not working outside the home or is working in a low-wage, part-time job.

RCC President. Dr. Shannon L. Kennedy, commented, “I urge residents to visit the RCC REV web page, complete the quick form and they will be assisted by a College navigator.”  She noted, “Individuals who resigned from full-time employment to care for sick relatives or stay home with school-age children are not eligible for these REV training vouchers, however they may be eligible for financial assistance through other programs.  We want residents facing that situation to also reach out to us.”

If you are a student interested in taking advantage of this voucher, you must enroll by Dec. 14, 2020.

If you qualify, or if you’re unsure if you qualify, you can visit www.rappahannock.edu/REV  or call Kelly Clifton at 804-758-6794 to connect with a navigator who can walk you through the process.


Rappahannock Community College is celebrating 50 years of breaking down barriers to education in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. Five degrees, six certificates, and 26 career and skills-training programs are offered by RCC, in addition to nearly 40 guaranteed admissions agreements with colleges and universities across the state and region. RCC graduates form the backbone of the local economy — healthcare providers, bankers, lawyers, small business owners and tradespeople. It’s hard to go through a day without being served by an RCC alum in some way. For more information, visit rappahannock.edu.