It had been nearly 20 years to the day since Randall Cunningham last heard the cheers of UNLV fans. But on Dec. 20, the two-time All-American quarterback and former NFL star once again brought fans, friends, and family to their feet for what he considers to be one of the most important completions of his career: his college degree.
“I’ve done a lot of things on and off the football field, but this was just something left undone that I felt was very important for me to finish,” says Cunningham. “My MVP awards are something I got because I had teammates that helped me out. Earning a college degree is much more of an individual accomplishment. Other people help you get there, too, but it’s ultimately something you have to go and do for yourself.”
When Cunningham left Las Vegas for the NFL in 1984, he was just 20 credits shy of earning his bachelor of arts degree in leisure studies from UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. He re-enrolled in spring 2004 after some urging by Janice Henry, athletic academic advisor for UNLV’s football team. He completed the remaining credits by taking a combination of traditional and online courses. “Janice was very inspirational to me and was also very determined to get me to finish,” says Cunningham. “She absolutely loves to see studentathletes come back to earn their degrees.”
At the commencement ceremony, Randall’s family — including his wife, Denise; son, Randall; and daughters, Vashti and Grace — cheered the loudest as UNLV President Carol C. Harter read aloud some of his accomplishments and recognized him as an “outstanding graduate.”
“They were up there hollering and all excited,” Cunningham says. “But I think they got more joy out of just being at the event and seeing what a beautiful job UNLV did at honoring all the graduates.”
Despite all his successes both on and off the field (he was recently ordained a minister and will be opening his own church soon), Cunningham remains a modest man, preferring these days to define success through his family and his faith. In fact, Cunningham still seems a bit uncomfortable with all the attention he’s been getting, claiming his recent accomplishments are no different from those of the average student.
“I’m pretty much just like everybody else. I wanted to do it for myself and my family, and for other athletes at UNLV as well,” he says. “It was also very important for me to be officially considered part of the alumni of my university.”