Dropout now a teacher after inspiration hit

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Lorenzo Williams lived the life of a dropout, bouncing from odd job to odd job before finally ending up back in school -- as a janitor.

Through all of his jobs, though, he maintained his passion for art, a talent he traces back as early as kindergarten, when classmates would line up at his desk in Jersey City, N.J., to have pictures drawn.

It was no different when he was cleaning the halls of anEdgefield middle school. For about five years, he worked as a custodian but also worked on the side creating art for teachers there. One day a fifth-grade teacher approached him and encouraged him to return to school.

"She said there's nothing wrong with what you're doing, but when you have skills like you have you don't have to clean commodes the rest of your life," Mr. Williams, 49, recalled.

Those words struck him, and at that moment he decided to turn the corner and return to school -- this time as a student.

The high school dropout has since earned a master's degree and has become a teacher at Butler High School. And the artist on the side has become a professional. In July, a children's book he illustrated was published. My Hero, My Dad, The Nurse was written by Dr. Maggie Thurmond Dorsey, a faculty member at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

"It sounds like a made-up story, but it's true," Butler High counselor Matt Johann said. "He's a role model to students, not just to artistic students, but everybody."

For a couple of years, Mr. Williams taught a class for students at risk of dropping out or getting into trouble, a class he felt particularly suited for teaching because of his background.

"He's one of those people who bring much more to the building than to fill a vacancy," Mr. Johann said.

Mr. Williams said that when he was young he grew bored with school and dropped out, needing only 1.5 credits to graduate.

He learned how tough life could be without an education.

"Not having a high school diploma always stopped me," Mr. Williams said.

Hephzibah High School Principal Walter Reeves worked with him for five years at Butler and said he has a way of relating to students.

"You had someone who saw something in him and helped him out," Dr. Reeves said. "That's something that comes across in his teaching."

Butler has also benefitted from having a professional artist serve as its art teacher, he said.

"One year Butler had more winners at the Exchange Club art show than (John S.) Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School," Dr. Reeves said.

Mr. Williams was named Butler's teacher of the year in only his fourth year of teaching. In 2007, he was the school's STAR teacher, selected by the student with the highest SAT score.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

LORENZO WILLIAMS

AGE: 49

FAMILY: Married for 27 years; six children and two grandchildren

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina Aiken and master's degree from Lander University

POSITION: Butler High School art teacher

QUOTE: "I just thought it was a good way to give back," Mr. Williams said of teaching.

Comments (22) Add comment
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Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 05/04/09 - 04:41 am
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AreUSerious? Man...I needed

AreUSerious? Man...I needed to take some Tylenol after reading your comments! Well, I got the gist of the point you were trying to make. Maybe you should get your niece to help you with.....oh, never mind. Nice that you're proud of her.

bone
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bone 05/04/09 - 05:36 am
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i think you must have been a

i think you must have been a great student, areuserious. perhaps if i had been your teacher i would have given you more work in language arts. wonderful story about mr. williams.

JohnQPublic
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JohnQPublic 05/04/09 - 06:37 am
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AreUSerious, you've got to be

AreUSerious, you've got to be kidding! Your written English is terrible. Texting shortcuts is one thing, but use proper grammar when writing for published, professional or business purposes. "Usta" is not a word. I think it's time that you begin to use a dictionary. Congratulations, Mr. Williams!

thumper
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thumper 05/04/09 - 06:48 am
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At least one name in photo

At least one name in photo is not correct.

workingmom
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workingmom 05/04/09 - 06:49 am
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AreUSerious....you actually

AreUSerious....you actually think teachers are in the education business for the paycheck??? I'm afraid you are terribly mistaken. If I didn't love my job, I surely would find something else that pays better, even though teachers' salaries have risen in the past 10 years or so. Also, please for the sake of other readers, get someone to proofread what you just posted above. I can't even BEGIN to count all your errors! Congratulations to Mr. Williams for being an inspiration not only to his students, but to other teachers as well.

NEone
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NEone 05/04/09 - 06:56 am
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Way to go, Mr. Williams!

Way to go, Mr. Williams!

afadel
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afadel 05/04/09 - 07:01 am
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Congratulations, Mr.

Congratulations, Mr. Williams.

Grasshopper
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Grasshopper 05/04/09 - 07:04 am
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The freedom of America, where

The freedom of America, where people get a second chance at success. I should know I am one of them, and working mom is correct. I couldn't be a teacher not enough money and I would be put in jail for child abuse. I appreciate all the teachers that put up with the kids, Including the ones who had to deal with me. Although, my past teachers tell me I was a saint compared to what they deal with today, and that is scary. I had my butt torn up plenty of times in school and when I got home. To bad teachers can't jerk them up by the collar and wear them out like they did me. Dummy me these kids today would probably pull a knife cause they are to scared to take a butt whipping. Enough rambling and killing the English language. I have to work my overly paid job while I still have it, see y'all later.

Talkatoast
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Talkatoast 05/04/09 - 08:13 am
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I don't know about you, but

I don't know about you, but I've had wonderful teachers who taught me well. There was only one teacher who literally did not teach a thing, and when we ask for help she would tell us to go look it up in a book.

sueboo418
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sueboo418 05/04/09 - 08:50 am
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AreUSerious there are allot

AreUSerious there are allot of teachers who teach because they enjoy their job and genuinely care. You obviously got the ONE that was just teaching for the paycheck or either you were sleeping in grammar class. I got a headache trying to read what you typed.

sueboo418
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sueboo418 05/04/09 - 09:06 am
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Oh and congratulations to Mr.

Oh and congratulations to Mr. Williams, great story!!! :)

eagleyes
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eagleyes 05/04/09 - 09:23 am
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yaaaa for the art teachers! u

yaaaa for the art teachers! u rock!

hurlyburly11
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hurlyburly11 05/04/09 - 09:42 am
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Great story!.........I had a

Great story!.........I had a rather hard time with the headline.....

justthefacts
22004
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justthefacts 05/04/09 - 09:56 am
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Great story. And, amazing

Great story. And, amazing enough, AreyUSerious is allowed to vote!

easy breezy
14
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easy breezy 05/04/09 - 11:07 am
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This is a wonderful story.

This is a wonderful story. Congratulations Mr. Williams!

TheShep
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TheShep 05/04/09 - 11:54 am
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Justthefacts...that is a

Justthefacts...that is a scary thought.

Rozzie2003
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Rozzie2003 05/04/09 - 12:04 pm
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Congratulations Mr.

Congratulations Mr. Williams!
An good example of what an individual can do if he want tpo improve himself.

Tots
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Tots 05/04/09 - 12:33 pm
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Congrtulations to you

Congrtulations to you Mr.Williams way to go.

AreUSerious
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AreUSerious 05/05/09 - 07:59 am
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damn you morons..i have been

damn you morons..i have been to college for 5 years and i have Serve my Country for 12 years in the army. so kiss where the sun don't shine morons.

AreUSerious
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AreUSerious 05/05/09 - 08:01 am
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workingmom i have heard

workingmom i have heard teachers say they are there just for a paycheck because the kids don't wanna listen now..

AreUSerious
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AreUSerious 05/05/09 - 08:12 am
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ppl on here are followers and

ppl on here are followers and you say ya'll are grown ups..it starts at home and some of you i know can't be teaching your kids good things because you are online putting me down so i know you teaching your kids to put ppl down.morons

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 05/05/09 - 03:26 pm
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I love reading this type of

I love reading this type of story, this is inspiring. On the other hand, there ARE some teachers in it just for the paycheck, BUT thank goodness, not most of them! Even most of those money-motivated teachers started out on the right foot, just succumbed to burnout from either teaching or other life stresses. I've had four children go completely through Richmond County Schools and just three bad teachers in all that time, and only one of those so incompetent she had to be "let go". My children started out in regular public school classes, then added E.I.P., then transferred to the Magnet schools when there were finally openings. We were blessed with some excellent teachers that are still teaching, including Mr. Neches, who was highlighted in the paper recently. Before that, I was also blessed with good teachers in this system and went on to promptly earn a BA four years after high school. It's a shame some teachers are in it only for the paycheck, (and they should be weeded out) but it makes us appreciate the good teachers all the more.

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