Outstanding Graduate Charlie Williams persevered through addiction to obtain his degree, turned it into a passion for helping others

Outstanding Graduate Charlie Williams outdoor portrait
Charlie Williams will continue after graduation working with the homeless population of Fort Collins.

College can sometimes be a path to discovery, but for many, that path isn’t straight or smooth. Department of Health and Exercise Science Outstanding graduate Charlie Williams knows that to be true. Coming to Colorado State University, Charlie was well versed in party culture and was a frequent drinker and substance user. Faced with the freedom that college provides for many for the first time, Charlie continued his habits, at the beginning getting by in classes while continuing his lifestyle of partying and drinking, but eventually, someone noticed.

“Charlie was enrolled in HES 403 in spring 2020 and was not doing well (by any measure) and was set to fail the course,” said Jen Richards, a faculty member in Health and Exercise Science. “During this time or shortly thereafter, Charlie sort of bottomed out. Charlie questioned his ability to complete college and succeed, and given his prior performance, was unsure if he had it within himself. However, despite his own doubts he re-enrolled in HES and set out to give it a try while remaining committed to being sober – not an easy feat in Fort Collins as a college student.”

Realizing that he could no longer manage school and his alcohol consumption, Charlie took a gap year and worked on becoming sober. Through working on himself and committing to finishing his degree and continuing to grow, he also found a passion that he hadn’t realized before – a passion for helping others.

“In the Fall of 2021, Charlie had the highest grade in HES 403, perhaps ever in the class, and most certainly that semester,” said Richards. “Not only was Charlie the top-performing student, but he also took it upon himself to help other students. At any given time, while a student in HES 403, Charlie was running group tutoring sessions for his fellow students (5-6 students at a time) and was also volunteering an extensive amount of his own time at the local homeless shelter.”

Richards continued, “I asked Charlie to be a HES 403 TA (which he did for his capstone credit) and his volunteer job at the shelter has led to a job offer. In short, Charlie has discovered his passion for helping others and has been looking into graduate programs in social work and counseling. I feel very fortunate to have met Charlie and learn of his story, and it has been a real pleasure to see him give back to others and help other students. It’s not common to encounter selfless people, particularly when they are of such a young age- so it’s been very inspiring for me to learn from him.”

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is happy to recognize Charlie as one of our Outstanding Graduates for Spring of 2022. We asked him about his journey towards graduation, and the challenges and triumphs he faced along the way.

Where are you from and what brought you to CSU?

I am from Parker, Colorado. I would be lying if I said, at 18, I gave any critical thought to where I would be attending school. A girl I was into at the time went to a school nearby. That was the deciding factor.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to graduation? How have you persevered through unforeseen circumstances?

I was an alcoholic before I came up to school. I have been dealing with problems with alcohol and substance abuse since I was 14. That came to a head the second I got up here. For a long time, I was able to make all of the appearances I needed to and hide it. But my life became unmanageable during COVID. I was depressed for years and never could seem to gain any traction while I was drinking. I stopped drinking because I feared for my life. Sobriety has had the side effect of allowing me to find some clarity and a direction in life. I’ve built a life around my work, self-care, and solid relationships now. That has allowed me to make it to graduation.

How have your academic experiences here and your professors, mentors, and advisers helped you overcome these obstacles and/or be successful in your major?

Before I took HES 403 with Dr. Jen Richards, I was able to come to class either drunk or high and never faced any repercussions for that behavior. In the Spring of 2020, I enrolled in her class. My substance abuse was at an all-time high. I was waking up on sidewalks, only sleeping a couple of hours a night, and eating maybe one meal per day. I was still making it to class, though. I was still succeeding in most of my classes. However, HES 403 was different. I couldn’t keep up, and that was the first time that I was convinced that I may have had a problem. That experience of being knocked out by a class helped me decide to take a gap year. That gap year incentivized me to go to rehab. Rehab helped me refocus and come back to Fort Collins with a purpose.

What activities have you been most involved in?

The second time I took HES 403, I was more motivated to take a class than I ever have been in the past. I was leading study groups, I was invested in all of the material, and I stepped outside of my comfort zone and got to know my professor. I’m very appreciative of the support Dr. Richards has provided me. I became a UTA for her this spring semester. It feels like I came full circle with that class, and that’s a cool feeling.

What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of during your time at CSU?

Charlie Williams and his fellow students graduating
Charlie Williams and his fellow students graduating

I’ve always worked while I’ve been in school. Whether it was berry picking, volunteering in an ER, working in June Medford’s lab, or golf course maintenance, I needed to stay busy. Since cleaning up my act, I began working at the Samaritan House. It is a homeless shelter outside of the old town. I started out as an on-call shelter worker and have worked up to a full-time member of the case management team. The experiences I’ve had working there have helped me keep a clear sight of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I help keep myself right so I can help other people. That’s something I can make sense of in my mind.

I’m proud that I was able to maintain my grades when I had no idea why I was up here. It would have been easy to quit, easier with how much I was drinking. But I got a sense of pride from doing well.

I’m proud of myself for getting sober. I had to cut off a lot of people and have a lot of uncomfortable conversations. The peace of mind I’ve gotten from it all has been worth the battle.

I’m proud of all of the people I have around me now. I feel like I’ve found a group of people who are all growing and pushing themselves. That is fun energy to be around.

What will you miss most about CSU?

I’ve found passions that lie away from academia, and that’s where I plan on staying. I’m glad I will have my degree, but I think there is credence in the saying that academia is not for everybody.

What are your plans after graduating?

I am going to continue on the case management team at the Samaritan House. I plan on picking up a second job at some point— preferably, something a little more outdoorsy. I also plan on hiking a lot of fourteeners this summer.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences