Like mother, like son.
Graduation announcements have been sent out and congratulation cakes have been ordered. Come May 11, while most parents will be in the audience snapping pictures of their child collecting their diplomas, Jo Ann Evans will follow her son Bryan Evans to receive her own.
Jo Ann Travis Evans first arrived on ACU campus in 1976 majoring in social work. After meeting husband Steve, the decision was made for Jo Ann to quit school the end of her junior year and work full time, while Steve finished his senior year. The option of resuming her education was taken off the table when the two married in 1981 and three years later had their son, Bryan.
Bryan Evans, senior family studies major from Angleton, was born with spina bifada, a spinal condition in which part of the spinal cord is exposed through a gap in the backbone.
“He was a typical little boy, in a wheelchair, but otherwise a sweet child who loved sports, fought with his big brother and possessed a joy for life and a deep love for people,” she said. “Bryan’s positive spirit at such a young age began to shift my relationship with God. I experienced Him in a new way as He used the circumstances in our family to call me into my life purpose.”
Bryan’s condition played a vital part in setting the stage for his mother’s career path and eventually her decision to hit the books for a second time. When Bryan entered kindergarten, Jo Ann co-founded the Spina Bifida Association of Texas Gulf Coast and spent the next 10 years working for cause at the national level as a board member and chairman of the Spina Bifida Association of America in Washington, D.C.
“It was during the years of helping families I began to dream of one day becoming a Marriage and Family therapist but I also knew it would never come true,” Jo Ann said. “My husband and I divorced after 25 years, I was living in Dallas and never thought about going back to school, much less graduate school to become a therapist.”
After accepting a position as the administrative coordinator in the Alumni Relations department at ACU, Jo Ann worked on campus for a year when hearing about the Bachelor of Applied Studies program. Lynda Thornton, the advisor, explained the program was for non-traditional students, urging her to think about finishing the undergrad Jo Ann began 33 years earlier.
“I admit the thought of going back to college at my age and after so many years was overwhelming but with Lynda’s gentle (and persistent) nudges I began school the spring of 2010.”
Jo Ann said her son’s reassurance pushed her to resuming the work required to go the degree distance. Though sharing the college experience as mother and son on the same campus has been unusual.
“My mom and I got a good laugh at the light bulb moment expressions on peoples’ faces in that class when they made the connection between me and my mom,” said Bryan.
The student response to Jo Ann as a fellow student has been both encouraging and supportive, she said.
“The relationships I have with students are similar to the one I have with my sons in that I generally take the approach as a mentor and friend,” Jo Ann said. “I occasionally might slip into ‘mom’ mode, but the students who know me well know it comes from a deep love for them.”
For Bryan, after the initial shock of sharing classes with his mother, he feels her return has led to both a unique and growing experience in their relationship.
“It’s been nice having someone always there to support you and to know exactly what you’re experiencing because they’re experiencing the same thing,” he said. “I feel like so many students parents can’t fully relate to them during their college career because so many of their college experiences were twenty, and sometimes thirty years before their kids. Since enrolling at ACU I feel like I’ve had more of a friendship with my mother and less of a parent/child relationship, which has been awesome.”
For Jo Ann, the studying will not stop after commencement ceremonies. This fall, she will start marriage and family therapy grad school, hoping one day to open her own private practice, but “open to whatever God has planned.”
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how God would bless my life some 30 plus years after beginning this journey,” she said.
“One of the great things of not only being students at ACU together but living in the same town is that both my mother and I have been able to get to know and love and be loved by many of the same people,” said Bryan. “We want to share the graduation celebration with those people who mean the most to us and a lot of those people overlap into both of our lives.”
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