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Evans: Adults need to 'be there' for teens, overcome mistakes

As an ex-con now turned professional speaker, Troy Evans' message is one of simplicity: "Never let your past be a hindrance to the future."

To help ensure brighter futures for all young people, Evans urged school officials assembled for the First General Session of the 2006 Joint Annual Conference to keep communication lines open and help teens deal with peer pressure.

Marie Slater, president of the Illinois Association of School Boards and a member of the Wheaton Warrenville CUSD 200 school board, presided at the opening session. She described the featured speaker as "a man with as colorful a history as any speaker we have likely ever presented or you have ever heard."

Acknowledging that peer pressure is difficult even for adults, Evans maintained that it is 100 times harder on kids. The convicted bank robber and former drug addict pointed to teen peer pressure and unwise choices for derailing his life as an aspiring athlete from a "good" home onto a path of drug addiction and crime to feed his habits.

But Evans also acknowledged that sometimes things happen for a reason. Had he not been arrested following a six-month bank-robbing spree and sentenced to 13 years in prison, he believes his life would have continued its downward spiral, possibly ending in a "suicide by police" during commission of a crime. Instead, his incarceration provided time for what he terms his "awakening" and the opportunity to pursue his education.

Had a guard jingling keys not come through the cellblock when he was being confronted by gang members who wanted him to smuggle in drugs via his frequent visitors, he might have been killed for refusing. Instead, he earned a measure of respect by not revealing their request...and they left him alone after that.

Had he not used every waking minute to plead for scholarship money so that he could take classes in prison, the National Speakers Association might not have funded his first class and then, after making straight A's, the subsequent classes he needed to complete two degrees.

And had he not encountered a new warden who put an end to his studies and had him transferred to a dirtier, nastier facility, he would not have learned that his sentencing had been in error, which resulted in his being released five years early.

"Education is the means to turn a negative to a positive," Evans said. And it was the difference between leaving prison with skills that he could use to support himself, rather than allowing the "dead time" of card playing and television viewing to consume his days behind bars.

While in prison, Evans said he learned four central truths:

  • The value of time
  • Nothing is more important than the loved ones in our life
  • Everyone should have faith in something other than yourself, and
  • How we come to the events in our lives is not as important as how we deal with them.

Now a nationally acclaimed professional speaker and the author of "From Desperation to Dedication: Lessons You Can Bank On," he uses his experiences in prison as examples of how people can overcome obstacles in their lives and ends both his presentations and his book with the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:

"I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I could be; I may not be the man I can be; but praise God, I'm not the man I once was."

In addition to Evans' lively talk, the Risk Management/David Binotti Award and the 2006 Invitational Exhibition of Educational Environments (EEE) awards were presented during the First General Session on Friday, Nov. 17.

Calhoun CUSD 40 in Hardin, Illinois, received this year's Risk Management/David Binotti Award. The award was presented by Joanne Binotti, widow of David Binotti after whom the award is named, and honors a district that shows a commitment to risk management and loss control through the Workers' Compensation Self Insurance Trust, which celebrates its 25th anniversary February 1, 2007.

EEE Awards of Distinction went to Cordogan, Clark & Associates, Inc., of Aurora for its construction project of Greenman School in Aurora West USD 129 and to Healy, Bender & Associates, Inc., of Naperville for its renovation of Farragut Elementary School in Joliet SD 86 (see separate story).

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