Laurence Evans arrived in the United States via Cardiff, Wales, with just $60 in his pocket. Along the way, he worked on a cruise ship and then in the casino business before finding his way to Tennessee and to college in 2000.
But the journey to earning his bachelor’s degree would take him fourteen years—through marriage, the birth of four children, the death of a family member, and the running of two businesses.
On Saturday, Evans, forty-five, will stand before his fellow graduates and exhort them to pursue their dreams and make them a reality in spite of the twists and turns of life.
Graduate hooding will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, December 12, and the undergraduate commencement ceremony—where Evans will speak—will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 13. Both will be held in Thompson-Boling Arena.More information about commencement is available online.
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“Dreams are a great guiding light but you have to be able to adapt,” said Evans, who was selected the commencement student speaker through a contest. “The Hollywood stories of the right things at the right time are great, but I don’t think they are reality. You have to create reality. The most successful people are the ones who have the combo of great talent and the willingness put in the hard work.”
Evans, of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is earning a bachelor’s degree in sport management with a concentration in therapeutic recreation from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
His circuitous journey to this moment took persistence—something all UT graduates must possess as they go on to find their place in the world.
“I consider myself very untalented in many ways, but one of the things I like about myself is my tenacity,” he said. “It’s the only way we get things done. I’ve seen too many talented people who have relied too much on their talents and think things will just come to them.”
Evans worked in the Mississippi casino business before arriving in Tennessee in 2000 after following his wife, Jennifer, back to her home state. They met on a cruise ship. He enrolled at Walter State Community College but then dropped out to raise a family. He and his wife had four children in 40 months. When his children were old enough, he enrolled at UT in 2009 but left school in 2011 to help run the family business, the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre in Gatlinburg, after the death of his father-in-law. He eventually returned to UT to complete his degree.
Evans, who is a national Taekwondo champion in Britain and the United States and runs the Gatlinburg Taekwondo Club, said having an indomitable spirit—one of the tenets of Taekwondo—has seen him through the hard spots in life.
He has worked with children with special needs and plans to work with seniors with Alzheimer’s in the future.
As he and fellow graduates leave UT, Evans exhorts them to keep their curiosity active.
“When I look at campus, the students that inspire me are the ones who are enjoying their lives and soaking up every bit of information they can.
“Keep that love of learning going because that’s what makes life fun,” he said.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)