Brittany Wagner captured the attention of members of the Gulfport Gridiron Club on Monday night at the Great Southern Club with her experiences of changing lives in her role as academic advisor at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba.
Wagner is the star of Netflix Last Chance U, which features the Clinton, Mississippi native as she guides athletes from low socio-economic conditions through obstacles that are unfamiliar to most college students.
She shared a segment of the show in which a student was given money to go to the bookstore to purchase textbooks. When he returned to her office, he had no books. Instead, he was wearing a pair of headphones. She said she took a deep breath, as she realized that she had to tread gently.
“Ronald Ollie learned a lot, and it wasn’t in the classroom,” Wagner said. “He was 5 when he heard gunshots and went outside and found that his father had shot his mother and turned the gun on himself.”
She recalled that Ollie had a fear of flying, but after being recruited to a university, he agreed to ride on a plane for the first time. However, he told her that if anything happened, it would be her fault.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Wagner assured him.
“I know because I have my headphones,” Ollie said.
“He wore those headphones to tune out the sounds of gunshots,” Wagner said.
“I think he realized that you don’t have to have the same blood to be family,” said Wagner. “And I learned what an education meant to people who weren’t like me.
“It was never really about football for me,” said Wagner about the career that appeared to have found her. “It was all about changing people’s lives. It’s about really knowing you made a difference in someone’s life, and they’re going to be OK, and they’re going to be able to navigate the next step.”
Wagner left the show earlier this year, but the show has opened additional doors for her. She has formed her own company, 10,000 Pencils, through which she works readying high school and college students for academic success, and she travels the country with weekly speaking engagements.