At 87, Mr. Evans earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberal Studies from Medgar Evers College this year, making him the oldest degree earner in 2016 at any City University of New York college.
His achievement was honored by Medgar Evers at a reception at the college on Tuesday, a joyful event filled with faculty, staff and media. President Rudolph F. Crew presented Mr. Evans with a plaque and letters of praise from elected officials were read.
â€œHe symbolizes courage, strength and fortitude,â€ said Dr. Crew, citing the motto of Medgar Evers. The plaque he presented to Mr. Evans read in part: â€œWe honor him today for his incredible accomplishment and the example he sets for his family and our students.â€
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley all sent commendations to the reception.
When asked his secret, Mr. Evans simply replied: â€œItâ€™s a lot of hard work.â€ He told reporters that not being late to class and doing his homework were important bits of advice that he would pass on.
Mr. Evans earned an Associate Degree from Medgar Evers in 2013 and the Bachelor degree in January, while working full time as a CUNY campus peace officer. He and his wife, Elizabeth, who accompanied him to the reception, live in Brooklyn. He has seven children, 11 grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
â€œI am interested in social work,â€ Mr. Evans said in a recent interview about his reasons for returning to school. Social work is appealing, he said in his soft voice, because he enjoys working with people.
â€œI had to go back,â€ Mr. Evans said of his long journey to his Bachelor Degree. â€œI saw all of these people getting their degrees.â€ He concentrated on History and Political Science, he said, and his professors did not cut him any slack because of his age. Why a degree so late in life? â€œI had to work,â€ Mr. Evans said simply.
In a voice with the lilt of Jamaica (he was born in Kingston) he described coming to New York in 1982. An amateur boxer (flyweight), at home he served in the Jamaican Defense Force.
In New York, he found work with a private security firm then at CUNY, where he has worked for 25 years and still puts in a full schedule. â€œI did some of the courses in the morning and went to work.â€ He did not know his exact grade point average but remembers it as being above a â€œB.â€ Like many students, he sometimes struggled.
â€œAt one stage I was given probation and it threw me,â€ Mr. Evans recalled. â€œBut I never think of giving up.â€
He chose Medgar Evers, in part, because of the flexibility of the course offerings, he said. His children and wife were â€œall excitedâ€ to see his name listed in the Medgar Evers commencement program, he said, even though he did not march in the May 27 ceremony.
â€œIt was good!â€ he replied when asked about sitting in classrooms where he was the oldest student. â€œMost of the time, the questions, they couldnâ€™t answer right away,â€ he said of his younger classmates. â€œThey were struggling to express themselves. I didnâ€™t have a problem.â€