You may have seen me around campus. I’m easy to recognize — my daily uniform is a black t-shirt with an image of a cypress tree, and on the back it says “Brew Crew.” Shorts in the summer, jeans when it’s cold, and Chuck Taylors either way. Some of my classmates call me Brew Crew in a jesting sort of way, and I’ve come to accept the moniker in good humor.

I don’t only wear my “uniform” because it’s convenient and I like the fit. I don’t only wear it because I have dozens of the shirts from the last job I had as a brewer in Gainesville. I wear it to remind myself where I came from. You see, a year ago I didn’t think I’d be able to finish my college degree anywhere. My college career had been spotty and directionless — I studied modern dance, photography and poetry. I got an associate’s degree in emergency medical services while doing paramedic courses. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. When I got frustrated with community college professors who didn’t care enough to take any of us seriously, I’d drop the class out of protest. Sometimes I just stopped going and took the F. I wasn’t sure what I was doing.

About a year and a half ago, I was working at the brewery as my wife was finishing law school. I realized that I, too, wanted to go to law school and started sending in applications to finish my bachelor’s. That’s when I realized that no one wanted me anymore. Too long out of school, too directionless, wildly inconsistent grades — I had a lot of marks against me. But for the first time I knew exactly what I wanted to do, only it seemed I was too late.

Then I got my acceptance letter from UCF. Within a month, my wife and I had packed up our apartment and were moving again — if I had a chance to finish my education and do what I wanted with my life, we weren’t going to miss it. I started taking classes that summer, as full a schedule as I was allowed. I powered through my English classes like a man on a mission. I loved every minute of it.

With support from UCF professors, senior Evan Altes earned a generous scholarship to attend Stetson Law next Fall.
With support from UCF professors, senior Evan Altes earned a generous scholarship to attend Stetson Law next Fall.

I’m now looking at the end of my time at UCF looming up over the horizon. I’ve been receiving my law school response letters. This time, it’s all acceptance letters. This isn’t a boast. UCF let me prove that I was a worthwhile student. UCF took a chance on a 30-year-old guy with a spotty academic record, and I’m so thankful they did. Every interaction I’ve had with the faculty and staff has astounded me with the kindness and care they demonstrate for their students.

My professors from past courses check in with me, edit my writing, send letters of recommendation, ask me how my law school search is going. I can only imagine the hours they have spent poring over my papers — the personal effort they put in has been incredibly affirming to me.

This was the college experience I was hoping for all those years ago.

I wonder if they know how much it means to me that they respect me as a thinker, as someone whose thoughts are worth critiquing and encouraging. In my professors and fellow students, I’ve gained several lifelong friends.

Next fall I’ll be going to Stetson Law on a generous scholarship. I earned that, and I’m proud of it. My spot at UCF, on the other hand, was not earned. UCF took a chance on me. UCF gave me a chance at a better future, and I’ll never forget it.