Ed Pratt: After wrong turn, student back on track

And then there was Evans. Dressed college-smart in a shirt and tie, he seemed likely to be a repeat of the previous speakers. He wasn’t. His was the story that parents fear. And, as it turned out, one they would love.

Given the moment and the environment, Chadwick Evans’ presentation seemed out of place. Everyone else was talking about triumph and success. His comments were quite different. And, it was for that reason, I had to talk with him.

About three weeks ago, several Southern University students gave presentations about interning at big companies here and around the country. Corporation representatives and others listened as the students talked about how much they learned about developing and executing plans.

There was applause after their presentations.

And then there was Evans. Dressed college-smart in a shirt and tie, he seemed likely to be a repeat of the previous speakers. He wasn’t.

His was the story that parents fear. And, as it turned out, one they would love.

In the packed room, Evans rose to the microphone to say he had failed. He had hurt himself and his parents and he was ashamed.

The room fell quiet. Wait, weren’t these suppose to be success stories?

I found Evans this week to ask what had happened to him.

Evans, a member of Southern’s famous marching band and a civil engineering major, had success on his résumé when he came to the Baton Rouge campus a couple years ago from Natchez, Miss.

He was a 3.0 GPA high school grad, wanted to play his trumpet in the marching band and top off his college career with a degree.

For the first two years, he was sailing. He was disciplined with his time, carving out periods for study, video games and partying. The studying dominated his schedule.

Then, in the spring 2013 semester, something changed. “I wasn’t focused … I was playing video games for hours and going partying on the weekends and coming in at 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning.”

As the end of the semester drew near, Evans said he discovered something: “I was struggling … Then when I tried to study, I said to myself ‘You don’t know anything. You need help.’ ”

He was so far behind that his future was a foregone conclusion. His grades were a disaster, and his band scholarship was at risk.

“It hurt me a lot. It hurt me more that I had to tell my grandparents,” he said, adding that they were educators who expected a lot of him. And, then there were his parents.

He avoided telling everyone — until he felt he had to come clean.

“My mom was hurt and my dad was upset. Out of all the things I had done, this was among the worst,” he said. “I had always had good grades.”

Evans took the summer getting his mind right. He wrote a letter to the band council detailing what he was going to do to earn back his scholarship. He returned focused this semester.

He, his dad, sister and mother spent nearly two hours in talks with Southern’s career services director, Tamara Montgomery, about how to straighten out his academic life.

“I’m getting help. I’m getting tutoring and more one-on-one time with my instructors,” he said. No more of the partying and long hours with video games.

Before I finished our telephone conversation, I asked Evans what was he doing. He had just finished band practice, and he was studying for midterms next week. Interestingly, there were no classes on Friday, and he could have waited until Friday or the weekend to pick up his studies.

“There’s a lot more to midterms than you think,” he said.

Now, back to that day he spoke among the success stories.

Evans closed his presentation by saying he had failed, but now he was on a path to succeed, and that he wanted to thank those people who had helped him and apologize to all of those he had let down.

There’s a possibility that Evans may wind up being the most successful person to speak that day.

Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.