by Maret Williamson

Charleston native and TV actor Richard “Bubba” Bryant knew from an early age that he wanted to earn a degree from the College of Charleston, continuing his family’s legacy of graduating from the school.

Bryant’s late grandfather, David West Eason ‘48, once told his family that his CofC class ring should go to his grandson if he graduated from the College.

Bryant at Charleston’s Blind Tiger. (Photo by Reese Moore)

While he always planned on fulfilling his grandfather’s wishes, Bryant took a circuitous route to graduation. He even dropped out for several years to pursue an acting career in California.

But on Friday, May 12, 2017, Bryant will walk across the Cistern at commencement, celebrating the degree in theatre he earned in December 2016.

“My grandfather told me when I was 6 years old that Charleston is the South’s best kept secret,” recalls Bryant. “He was the one that taught me everything I know about Charleston. I love the city so much and it’s in my blood. I grew up fishing and surfing and playing in the pluff mud around here.”

Bryant, now 32, has loved performing since he was a boy, starting out with the Charleston boys choir and eventually discovering acting as a student at the Charleston County School of Arts.

In 2003, during his first year at the College, Bryant made the difficult decision to leave school and move to pursue an acting career. Problem was, he didn’t formally drop out; he just walked away from his classes and earned a semester full of Fs.

But he couldn’t pass up a chance to pursue his dream, even if his first role as “Stoner No. 1” on One Tree Hill, a teen drama on CW, wasn’t a big one.

In 2007, Bryant landed a role on Lifetime’s Army Wives. After the show was picked for a second season, Bryant had to leave Charleston and spend more time in Los Angeles and New York. Coincidentally, Army Wives sometimes filmed at the old Charleston Naval Base in North Charleston, South Carolina, where Bryant’s grandparents met while serving in the military decades earlier.

After heading back to Los Angeles for a few more years, Bryant found himself longing for Charleston more than ever.

“Living in Los Angeles and New York trying to make money, I felt like I was completely disconnected from my life in Charleston,” says Bryant. “It was hard for me to transition into those cities from growing up in the Holy City where I was accustomed to the slower pace of living.”

 So, in 2012 he decided to change course and move back home.

“When I moved back to Charleston, I drove from California in 42 hours,” he says. “It doesn’t sound possible, but it was since I missed my home that much.”

Since he never formally withdrew from College, Bryant returned with a .07 grade-point average. But with the unwavering support of his professors and advisors, he demonstrated he was serious about academics and determined to succeed.

He attended classes at Trident Technical College before he was allowed to return to the College. To earn money, he started bartending at the Trio Club just off campus.

Some people told Bryant that he’d never be able to return to the College because of his grades. But others believed in him.

Michelle Futrell, director of undergraduate academic services, remembers having a very frank discussion with Bryant before his return.

“I told him, ‘You might be able to charm everyone else, but you aren’t going to be able to charm me,’” she recalls. “I challenged him to step up and put in the work necessary to earn his degree, and he did exactly that. I could not be more proud of him.”

Having worked as a professional actor, Bryant also had to set his ego aside and take theater classes alongside less experienced students.

Todd McNerney, a theater professor and mentor to Bryant, was amazed at the transformation he saw in his student.

“He returned with so much maturity,” says McNerney. “He was older and realized that he didn’t know everything there is to know. That takes maturity to have that mindset.”

To earn acting roles, Bryant had learned to exude confidence. But returning to college meant he had to pull back, talk less and listen more.

“I have had a different experience than other students, but my classmates and professors taught me so much,” says Bryant. “It taught me humility and how to be a good human being. Seeing the world and coming back, it made everything gold.”

Although he will always consider himself an actor, Bryant says his love for Charleston trumps his passion to pursue a career in acting. At least for now. Lately he’s been busy taking real estate classes, and he’s given some thought to law school.

“To have a degree is something I always wanted and even fantasized about when I was an actor,” he says. “A liberal arts education means that you can have any profession that you want because you have a well rounded experience that prepares you for all that life can throw at you. College of Charleston is and will always be a part of who I am.”

Featured image by Reese Moore