Marist Alumnus Dudley Davis: A Role Model For Any Red Fox
Marist welcomed 1,400 alumni back for Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, and the graduates returned with unique life stories to share with their former classmates. Perhaps one of the most compelling stories is that of Dudley Davis, who graduated from Marist in 1969 and was returning for his 50th anniversary.
Davis played the lead in the first ever musical production produced at Marist as El Gallo in The Fantasticks. He had aspirations to be a Broadway star, but his life followed a very different and more philanthropic path.
Davis served as treasurer of Student Government Association (SGA) in his junior year and later went on to be the senior representative for SGA. One of Davis’ fondest memories from his time at Marist was also a meaningful one. It was 1968 and Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. There was a gathering of students on campus who wanted to march in Poughkeepsie to protest the pastor’s untimely death. At the time, the Dean of Students was against the student marching and claimed that anyone who went off campus would face serious repercussions. It was put to a vote by SGA. Davis had the deciding vote and he decided to march. Students from colleges across the Hudson Valley came together in Poughkeepsie and peacefully marched in support of the fallen hero.
After graduating from Marist, Davis was placed in the Navy Federal Reserve. In 1969, he was offered a high school teaching position in the Bronx, where there was a major illiteracy problem at the time. Before taking the job, he was warned that the students had a reputation for running teachers out of the school. Davis was never intimidated. Teaching English, he connected with the students through the enchanting stories of Edgar Allen Poe. He used his talents as an actor to dramatize the stories. He recalled a specific instance when he was reading Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” to a high school class. He used his acting abilities to play the part of the mentally ill narrator of the story. As he was finishing the story, the bell rang. The students were so engrossed by the story that they begged Davis to finish it. When the students returned the next day, they told him that when they finished the story that night, it was the first story they had ever read.
Throughout his 11 years teaching in the Bronx, he brought 450 high school students to their respective reading level. Very humbly, Davis said, “It’s not amazing. If they want to learn and you know what you’re doing, you can teach them.”
After his tenure in the Bronx, Davis spent 24 years as a private contractor making yearbooks for high schools in the area. Once again, he used what he learned at Marist as the editor of the Marist yearbook. He would work in schools to help students and teachers assemble their yearbooks.
Davis then returned to teaching, which he is still doing today at the age of 73. He works as an administrative assistant in the Long Branch, N.J. public school system, where he has worked for the past 15 years. He specializes in teaching children with learning difficulties how to read and write. Because there is a refugee center nearby, he also spends a lot of time teaching young refugees how to read and write. One of the experiences that sticks out to him was that of a nine-year-old boy from Malaysia who was born in a detention center after his parents were forced to leave their home country. The boy came to America not knowing how to read or write. After only two months with the boy, he could read. In another two months, he was at a fifth grade reading level. Eventually, the boy had to leave the area, as his father got a job in Chicago. When he left, he told Davis that he had changed his life and that he loved him, a moment he will not soon forget.
Throughout his life, Davis has learned that he is doing what he was always meant to do. “God gave me a gift [to teach children how to read]” he said. Davis is astounded by the statistic of 32 million illiterate Americans and is trying to reduce that number one at a time. Davis sometimes receives letters from old students thanking him for changing their lives. In one instance, a letter from a student he taught in 1970 read “You made a difference in my life and the lives of so many others. Thank you.” When he read it, Davis started to tear up and said, “I felt richer than Donald Trump at that point.”
Davis tries to live his life as the anti-Donald Trump. Instead of rejecting refugees, Davis tries his best to help them succeed in America. He cites the Gospel of Matthew as his inspiration for doing what he does: “I was a foreigner, and you welcomed me.” He welcomes everyone that steps into his life with open arms and will do anything in his power to help them as much as he can.
Upon returning to campus, Davis reflected on how much Marist played a part in his career. “Marist gave me a chance to become who I am today,” he said. The funny thing about his time at Marist is that he was originally rejected twice. After getting turned away the first time, he went to a preparatory school for a year, got straight A’s and returned in hopes of getting accepted. Unfortunately, there was not any room for him in his class. This time, Davis enrolled in a local college, succeeded there and applied to Marist again. Finally, he was accepted.
It is stories like this why Davis lives by the motto “Success is failure turned inside out.” He believes that to achieve your goals, you should never stop trying no matter how many times you fail.
After reading Squire Rushnell’s When God Winks at You, Davis thinks that God has been using him as a wink to other people. At this point, the amount of times he has been used as a “wink” is incalculable. Dudley Davis is someone who has dedicated his life to helping those who society has forgotten about, a true role model for any Marist student to look up to.