Bonded by Chemistry
Leading up to GSU’s 2018 commencement, the GSU Newsroom is sharing the stories of inspiring graduates and honorees. This is a story about a bond that has developed between two chemistry majors Terin D’amico and Dreyvon McCray.
GSU seniors Terin D’amico and Dreyvon McCray are chemistry majors and unlikely friends whose relationship is reminiscent of a chemical reaction that is capturing headlines.
D’amico is White, in his early 50s, and has the disposition and gait of a decorated miltary veteran: McCray is African American, in his mid-20s, has an easy smile and infectious laugh, and walks with a walker following a violent attack 11 years ago.
“They have more of a covalent bond of shared interests,’’ said GSU Professor John Sowa, a mentor to both D’amico staff and McCray in their pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.
A love of atoms and molecules and ions and protons is the source of their bond. The initial attraction was more superficial.
“I saw Dreyvon sitting with his friends, and asked if I could join their table,’’ said D’amico, retired Army staff sergeant and the father of three. “He reminded me of my fourth son.’’
Today, the friends share inside jokes, lab projects, and a ride home three times a week after late classes at on a campus seemingly created for such an alliance.
Formerly an upper division institution that primarily enrolled students whose average age was 33 and who attended school part time in the evening, GSU now is a four-year institution that provides an intersection for unlikely friends, such as D’amico and McCray, colleagues, and classmates to meet.
A fixture in the Student Success Commons, D’amico and McCray are spending the last days leading up to graduation working on graduate program applications for McCray. Meanwhile, D’amico is headed to Notre Dame to study chemistry on a full doctoral scholarship.
Before they part ways, the friends have one last collaboration—walking across the stage together.
Student Disability Services is working with commencement marshals to make sure that McCray has a seat on the end of the aisle and easy access to his walker when his name is called. At that time, D’amico will escort McCray across the stage.
McCray said he expects the sight of him and D’amico to draw attention. He hopes it’s the right kind. “We don’t want people to see our race. We want people to see our friendship.’’
At the age of 14, McCray was beaten and kicked in the head multiple times by three boys who wanted his cell phone.
After spending six months in the hospital—three of them in a coma—he developed scoliosis as a result of his injuries and required intensive therapy to learn how to walk again. Chicago media outlets reported his journey.
The rehab cost McCray his entire sophomore year of high school, but McCray remained focused on his long- and short-term goals.
The Dolton resident graduated high school with his class in 2010 and went on to college— first at South Suburban College then at Governors State. McCray graduates this spring with a major in chemistry and minor in mathematics.
“I had a plan, and I was going to achieve that plan no matter what happened.”
The key to his success? Asking for help when he needed it, lots of study time at the GSU Student Success Center, and building relationships with people like D’amico, whom McCray counts as a best friend. “Terin’s just a happy spirit.”
Though the two will take different paths after graduation, they plan to stay in touch and visit often.
After graduation, McCray plans to earn her master’s degree. Eventually, he’d like to be a college professor.
But for now, he’s happy to cross the stage with his friend, whom he says has inspired him to stare down obstacles. “I look at it this way: People go through adversity and the adversity you go through is supposed to make you stronger. Each day I wake up and it’s like, ‘OK, what are you goanna' do today?’”
As a 27-year military man, D’amico served in infantry, intercepted guided missiles, and jumped from airplanes during his career.
He retired his rucksack in 2012 and decided to follow in the footsteps of his younger brother Derin Ph.D., an accomplished organic chemist.
After graduating high school in Wenatchee, Washington, Terin headed to boot camp (inspired by the “Rambo” movie franchise) while Derin headed to school.
Terin D’amico’s service was interrupted twice.
In 1988, he left the Army briefly to go to school. He left the second time in 1999 for seven years. During that time, Terin went to work at what is now telecommunications giant Verizon, where he supported the information technology team and designed software. He’s even named on a couple patents.
In 2007, Terin returned to the Army and spent most of his time overseas—Afghanistan, Haiti, Tunisia, Jordan—until he retired in 2012.
Terin and his family settled into Country Club Hills to be closer to his wife’s family. Two years later started at GSU.
He worked with the Veterans Resource Center to find a grant that would cover tuition and fees. D’amico was even able to secure a work study job as the primary chemistry tutor and work one-on-one with McCray.
They have spent hours, sometimes days, going studying formulas and equations. Now, as they look forward to graduation, D’amico said sharing a last walk is an appropriate way to sum up their time together at GSU. “A journey is better shared.”