Like Mother, Like Daughter

Gladys Phillips-Evans and Alexis Evans—mother and daughter Illini—talk about differences in geography and generations

Gladys Phillips-Evans and Alexis Evans—mother and daughter Illini—talk about differences in geography and generations

Alexis, in a cap and gown, Gladys and Brooklyn pose in front of State Farm Center.

Alexis Evans, Gladys Philips- Evans and Brooklyn Hurley—three generations who can sing “Hail to the Orange.” (Image courtesy of Mary Francis Graham)

California born and bred, Alexis Evans, ’12 LAS, MBA ’22, faced a dilemma: Would she honor her father’s wishes and attend his alma mater—the University of California, Los Angeles—or would she go East?

“When it was time for Alexis to go to college, there was a big decision to be made,” recalls her mother, Dr. Gladys Phillips-Evans, ’70 FAA, who was born and raised in Chicago and enrolled at the U of I to study voice. Gladys rallied for her daughter to extend the Illini legacy.

“I wanted to get out and explore the world,” Alexis says. Having attended a small private high school with a graduating class of 60, she craved the excitement of Big 10 football and a bustling, energetic campus.

Alexis narrowed her choice to Illinois or the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We visited the U of I on a beautiful, sunny day,” she says, “and Madison during a snow storm. I looked at Mom and said, ‘I’m not built for this.’” Decision made.

Not that a downstate Illinois climate would be much better. For her entry into the U of I’s winter weather, Alexis armed herself with only an umbrella. “It broke before I got to class,” she says. “I was wet. I was miserable. When I got back, my roommate and I made snow angels. Suddenly I knew everything would be okay.”

Illinois taught Gladys life lessons about adapting as well, but it wasn’t to the elements. She was one of only 400 Black students on campus during the late 1960s. Rather than feel isolated, the music major joined as many groups as she could, often holding leadership positions. Gladys felt that “being involved was important,” and she believes that campus activity led to her successful career as a public school administrator. “As I told my daughter, ‘Alexis, if you can make it at Illinois, you can make it anywhere.’”

Alexis discovered that student diversity had advanced when she arrived on campus in 2008 to major in rhetoric, with a focus on advertising. For her, the challenge was an L.A. urbanite adapting to a Midwestern university. She sums up that best by recalling husband Abraham’s initial reaction—“It’s nothing but corn!”—during his first campus visit in 2022 when he came to cheer on his wife as she received her MBA.

Joining them on that trip was Brooklyn, the couple’s 4-year-old daughter. “She will be the third person in this family to go to Illinois!” grandmother Gladys says. However, Alexis says there’s expectation that Brooklyn might attend UCLA or even USC.

But Illini mothers often have their way, as Alexis notes that Brooklyn already knows how to sing “Hail to the Orange.”