Success & Impact

A Second Chance at Success

by Erin O'Boyle

Carlton "John" Steward '21

Carlton "John" Steward '21

Keys to the Article
  • As a father of five, John Steward ’21 returned to college as an adult to complete his undergraduate degree at Saint Joseph’s University.
  • After running his own business for 10 years, he wanted to prove he was intelligent enough to earn his degree while also taking care of his family.
  • He majored in history and says the events of 2020 made him want to pursue a career in community service.

Carlton “John” Steward ’21 admits that he felt a bit self-conscious coming back to a college campus as an adult student. But he says that Saint Joseph’s University pushed him to get into that uncomfortable place, all while respecting his role off campus as a father and husband.

“The University supported every move, so I feel I made the right decision coming here,” he says.

Returning to college was a big step for Steward, who says that he was not a good student in high school. “I didn’t take school seriously, and missed many early opportunities to advance my education,” he explains. Enrolling at Saint Joseph’s was a chance for him to prove to himself that he was intelligent and capable enough to earn a college degree.

Steward grew up in Florida and has lived all over the state. At age 21, he got married and had his first son, Jadon. In the coming years, Steward started his own personal training business, which he owned for nearly a decade, and he and his wife had four more sons. 

Despite his success and pride in his business, Steward still had a dream of completing his college education. He enrolled at Florida State College as an undergraduate, completing two years of school before he and his family relocated to West Chester, Pennsylvania, after his wife received a promotion

“My wife and I discussed that I would handle family responsibilities, and she would handle her career,” he says. He also used this as an opportunity to complete his undergraduate degree.

Steward applied to several Philadelphia colleges and universities, but says that Saint Joseph’s was the right one for him. “I came to campus, and I just thought, ‘This is what a university should look like,’” he explains. “The recruiters and counselors were more than kind, and I just got a good feeling that this was the place for me.”

He majored in history, a subject he enjoyed in high school, with the goal of becoming a history professor.

“Studying history is tough,” he says. “It requires a lot of reading and research. But I found that I was able to focus on it and make good grades.”

“I have a whole second act, and I want to make it count.”

Carlton "John" Steward '21

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Steward says it was relatively easy to balance school with taking care of his family. The children would be at school while he drove to campus, and he was able to get help picking them up from school or babysitting when necessary.

In March of 2020, it became difficult for him to make time for himself and three school-age children still living at home. But he says his professors at the University helped him along and were very encouraging.

“He has different priorities than a lot of our undergraduate students, because he’s a working parent,” says James Carter, Ph.D., professor and chair of the history department. “I’ve had to reschedule appointments with him because he’s had to look after his kids. These things typically don’t happen to undergraduate students.” 

Despite his extra responsibilities, Carter says Steward is among the top of his class.

“Every year, the history department gives out an award, and we automatically consider the top GPAs for this award. [Carlton] was one of the people we considered a finalist. And when we reached out to him, he said that he was just grateful to have this opportunity to finish this degree, and that this award should go to a more traditional student, because this is their moment in college,” says Carter. “And that’s just very typical of him. He’s very self-effacing and hard working. Very humble and focused.”

The pandemic and the events of 2020 also affected Steward’s plans for himself after graduating. While he initially wanted to pursue a career as a professor, he’s started to focus more on community service.

“I want to be of service, especially to my Black and Brown communities, possibly in education or in a nonprofit organization,” he explains.

Steward says this is the first time in his life where he has so many choices.

“As a young man, when you have a child at 20, you just kind of do what you have to. I’ve had to respond to situations. Now, I have a choice. I have a whole second act, and I want to make it count.”