‘You have a story to tell’

Tiffany Hunsley, founder and executive director of Recovery is Happening, was the keynote speaker of Rochester Community and Technical College’s 101st annual commencement ceremony. (Echo Photo by Abigail Furutani)

Tiffany Hunsley is a compelling speaker. Her story of overcoming addiction and incarceration to becoming an entrepreneur should inspire anyone who hears it.

Her address at the 2017 commencement ceremony was just as captivating. Her message was relevant to everyone gathered at the Rochester Regional Sports Center, from the newly conferred graduates, students returning to school and to friends and family who were celebrating the graduation milestone.

Huntley said drug court workers encouraged her to further her education. She enrolled at RCTC, where she graduated in 2009.

“Throughout this time, I met some of the most amazing, thoughtful, caring people,” Hunsley said. “Everyone had the courage to believe in me when I didn’t have the courage to believe in myself.”

That’s true. RCTC’s instructors, administrators and staff are committed to supporting all students. If they weren’t, it would be self-defeating to the college’s mission.

“For the past years, I have had my family, my mentors and my community,” said Hunsley, a licensed social worker and chemical dependency counselor. “This is how individuals let their light shine brightly. I knew that I must pay forward in gratitude, be responsible in my community and give back through mentorship and community activism.”

In 2011, Hunsley founded Recovery is Happening, a Rochester nonprofit organization focused on improving long-term addiction recovery through education, advocacy and peer support.

Recovery is Happing now has three full-time employees and several volunteers working out of a 2,200-square-foot building in Rochester.

In 2016, Hunsley traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept a the Vernon Johnson Award from America Honors Recovery, which described her as a “catalyst of change.” A few weeks, later she went to Los Angeles to accept the Voice Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Hunsley concluded her remarks by encouraging graduates to remember “all of the times you wanted to give up, but you pushed through another day,” and to share that struggle with others.

“I have a name, a history, a story to tell, Hunsley said. “And I will no longer hush my voice for someone else’s comfort. So to RCTC, we say thank you for years of going beyond the traditional student. Because of what we have learned from you, we can now go on beyond for others in our community and to the graduating class of 2017, the biggest thing  — let your voice be heard, let your story be told.”

Hunsley inspired everyone with her story of going from addict to advocate to accolades.

Now we want to hear yours.

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