By ANDREW NELSON, Staff reporter | Published May 15, 2014
In nominating Evan Montalbano as Pinecrest’s outstanding senior, the school said, “Have you ever met a young person that has such dramatic impact on your life that you are brought to tearful admiration for him or her, gain a renewed confidence in humanity and marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit? This is the impact that Evan has had on many people.”
CUMMING—Evan Montalbano had a choice.
And it wasn’t a choice like what type of shoes to wear, or what sport to focus on, or which subject to study.
It was a choice born from tears, anxiety and trying to understand one’s place.
At 14, he faced the death of his mother in a choking accident. They lived in Atlanta when his mother died in his arms. After her death, his grandparents took him in as he moved to a new home, new town and a new school.
His choice is how to live with that experience. Does it lead to a dark place or one of hope?
Now at 18, the graduating senior at Pinecrest Academy said he has chosen a path that leads “towards finding an understanding.”
“I want to believe in a plan, instead of a doubt. I’m just waiting to see what God’s plan is for me. He’s building me up for a larger plan. It’s very tough sometimes,” said the young man who will spend some of the summer helping people in impoverished Nicaragua before in the fall heading to the University of Georgia.
“My understanding of my mother’s death is knowing that even in the midst of how terrible the entire occurrence was, there is a meaning. I’m looking for this meaning. That’s when my faith comes in,” he said.
Montalbano has been raised by his grandparents, Dennis and Kathy Duval in Duluth. Dennis is a retired engineer. Kathy works at a nearby hospital. Montalbano also credited Jeff Weinand, his mom’s then-boyfriend, with being a father figure in his life. His father and brother live in Colorado, where he’ll visit during the summer. Montalbano worships at St. Benedict Church, Johns Creek.
In his first year at Pinecrest, Evan excelled with straight A’s and earned the school’s highest award, the Semper Altius, given to the most well rounded student. He continued as a standout sophomore. That changed his junior year.
That year was “hitting a wall,” he said about his struggle. There was “just questioning,” he said. “You cannot keep it all to yourself. You’ll implode,” he said.
With the help of the school chaplain, faculty and many others, he finds himself more comfortable now remembering his mom.
“She did the best anyone could have done. She just loved her sons. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “There is meaning to our life experiences, especially with our tragedies.”
His senior year he decided to join the soccer team. No standout player, he has yet to score a goal. Instead, for him it was an opportunity to spend time with his friends.
Teacher Chris Kane taught Montalbano in the classroom and coached him on the soccer field. Said Kane in an email, “Evan brings a selflessness to Pinecrest that is really unique. Whether it’s a study group, and extra practice, or a service project, he is always right there in the front trying to organize things, or helping those in the lead. He’s just a great kid with so much to look forward to!”
For this interview, Montalbano talked sitting in an empty classroom. The high school had the day off. Some teachers and administrators took advantage of the quiet to get work done. He had exchanged his school uniform for a casual outfit with cowboy boots he’d gotten in Colorado.
As the president of the boys senior class, Montalbano set a goal to unite the teenagers before their high school years were behind them. That’s when “Jasper” showed up. The alpaca made an appearance on campus, orchestrated by Montalbano and other seniors, as a prank. “I love my class. I wanted to make it a good year,” he said.
It was prom night too. Soon, four years of high school would be in the rearview mirror.
“It happened so fast,” he said. At the school year’s start, seniors are full of bravado to graduate. And then it arrives. “As you get closer to it, that all changes,” he said.
To new freshmen, he cautioned them to be confident.
“Don’t change yourself to gain attention. That’s how you lose yourself. I say, be yourself. That’s how you find your friends. Stay close to God,” he said.