WALKER — “Study hard,” was the advice former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards gave about 100 Walker fifth-graders who gathered Wednesday in their school’s cafeteria to hear him speak.
“The first four years that I was in school, I was in one room,” Edwards told the group. “I had to hear everything four times to learn it.”
Edwards, invited to speak at the school by one of the teachers, also advised the students to be kind to their brothers and sisters and attentive to their teachers.
Edwards spoke for about 25 minutes, giving a brief introduction, and then answered 11 questions posed by students and filtered by teachers, said Arlene Wilson, principal of Levi Milton Elementary School in Walker.
During his remarks, Edwards did not address his recent release from federal prison, or his 2000 conviction on racketeering charges stemming from the award of state licenses to gambling casinos.
“We are not bringing that up,” said Wilson, adding that the faculty had stipulated those matters be avoided and the choice to do so did not come from Edwards.
School system administrators defended the decision to have Edwards address the pupils.
“He’s done his time and paid his dues,” said Bill Spear, the Livingston Parish school superintendent. “It’s a rare opportunity for a former governor to come and talk to a fifth-grade class.”
Assistant Superintendent Tommy Cothern said Edwards is “going to be a figure in Louisiana history for years and years. I think it probably is a good thing.”
Cothern said the district leaves most decisions on speakers to the principals at the individual schools.
Wilson said notes had been sent home with the students informing parents of the event, and only one parent had called to voice a concern about having the convicted felon speak at the school.
Wilson invited that parent to attend, which she did, Wilson said.
The fifth-graders had been studying Louisiana history and governors in particular, so school administrators thought it would be a good opportunity for the students to hear from a former governor.
Edwards thanked the students for having him in to speak and singled out Emily Lambert, whose mother, Delta Lambert, is a teacher at the school and first contacted Edwards’ wife, Trina, about having him address students at the school.
“I just started chatting with her on Facebook,” Lambert said.
Afterward, Edwards signed books and pieces of paper and posed for pictures .
“I just wanted to meet him, I just grew up loving him,” said Tiffany Kennedy, who has a child in the first grade and whose mother teaches at the school, she said.
Edwards fielded questions about his hobbies, about meeting Elvis Presley, and his early school career.
“I used to love to hunt and ride horses,” he told the kids. “But, I am getting a little old for that.
“Now I like to play golf and ride four-wheelers,” he said.
Edwards asked the gathering if many of them enjoyed riding four-wheelers, and nearly every hand went up.
Elvis, Edwards said, could make any song “sound like he was singing it to you.”
Edwards said afterward that this was the first school to which he had been invited to speak.
“I thought I would get out of prison and relax,” he said. “I am busier now than I was in prison.
“At least now I get paid.”