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Tulane Law graduate – once homeless – rebuilt his life in service to those in recovery

May 10, 2024 8:30 AM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Third-year law student Eric Tedder will graduate May 18 with his J.D., with plans to begin a career as a public defender. The milestone is no small feat -- Tedder nine years ago was homeless and dealing with addiction. At Tulane, he became a mentor and supporter of other students through the Tulane Recovery Community, a recovery program on campus. (photo: Alina Hernandez)


Eric Tedder knows about personal hardship, and how quickly lives can be turned upside down.

The third-year Tulane Law student has experienced addiction, homelessness, and hardships – and the sweetness of a second chance that helped him rebuild his life.

And what a comeback it has been. Tedder will be among the 2024 graduates of Tulane Law School on May 18, receiving his J.D. and launching a career in the public interest to make a difference for others needing a second chance, too.

“I cannot overstate the value of a second chance, given where I am today versus just nine years ago,” said Tedder, who has been sober that long.

Tedder, far right, and members of the TRC take an
annual ski trip during Mardi Gras. Tedder's support 
for members of the recovery community earned him 
Tulane's Greenie Award.

Full of hope, Tedder arrived at Tulane Law in 2021 with a plan to find a sober community, and also to be a support for others.  Almost immediately, he became an integral part – a daily face – at the Tulane Recovery Community (TRC), a campus-based center that supports students who have been affected by addiction, providing recovery-based programs that foster academic achievement, connection and engagement.

“From that first meeting he attended in August of 2021, he came to almost every meeting after for the next three years,” said Jacob Goldberg, Director of Recovery Programs who runs the TRC.

There, Tedder sought community support from what was a brand-new university effort to offer recovery services to members of its community.  Tedder also built connections with anyone who needed support, becoming a mentor and friend to graduate students and undergraduates alike. He has helped the program grow from what was a single meeting a week in a residence hall to a center located on Calhoun Street that hosts students throughout the day. It is a safe space for Tulanians to seek help and counseling and to find a steady stream of activities for those seeking a sober lifestyle in a city that thrives on nightlife.

“It is such a close community and some of these people are my closest friends,” Tedder said of the TRC.  “I wanted to help, and I certainly received as much support as I gave.”

For his dedication, Tulane University honored Tedder in April with the Greenie Award, given to a handful of students each year for their outstanding dedication to the Tulane University community and the embodiment of its values.

“Eric's journey of over 8 years of continuous abstinence from all mind-altering substances speaks volumes about his strength and determination,” wrote Goldberg in his nomination letter for the Greenie Award. “He stands as a pillar in the Tulane Recovery Community, offering guidance as a sponsor to other students, sharing his own experiences, and providing a beacon of hope that change and life in recovery are indeed possible.”

Tedder with TRC members during a 

That Tedder has achieved, as a non-traditional student, a new outlook on life, and one with a purpose, is no small feat. His journey to becoming a lawyer was not part of his early plans. Growing up in Kansas, he attended the University of Kansas but eventually became a performer, joining a professional company and dropping out of college.

“When you’re a performer, you have lots of time to play, to party and I was having fun, drinking with friends and doing what everyone else was doing,” he said. “But when everyone else slowed down at the tail end of that performance experience, I didn’t.”

Alcohol and drugs “took over my passions,” said Tedder and he found himself isolating from friends and family and losing a grip on his finances. He couldn’t make rent.

“That is what happens – you isolate because there is so much shame  (in addiction),” said Tedder.  “And you think you can just run away and start again, and your problems won’t follow. But they do.”

Ironically, he came to New Orleans about nine years ago, and lived homeless under the Claiborne Avenue overpass for a time.

“That was when I realized I was not in control and I needed help,” he said. “I had no solutions anymore.”

He called his father in Houston and told him everything. “He was blindsided. But to his credit, he, and my family, really rallied around me,” Tedder remembered.

Tedder, at 28, entered an addiction center for his recovery and “that was the end of it. I maintained recovery and I didn’t worry about the future. I just worried about today.”

His recovery well in hand, he became a trucker, traveling the country and finishing school at the University of Houston-Downtown with a degree in political science.

“It was another adventure, and it was scary because I was away from my support systems, but it also helped me to get back to my own life,” he said.

 It all happened just as the nation was about to enter the COVID-19 pandemic and Tedder, inspired by his studies in Houston, decided that law school would give him the skills he needed to do work in the public interest.

“Can you imagine the perseverance that he had to come back to New Orleans where he was homeless and active in his drug addiction?” asked Goldberg in explaining how Tedder’s inner strength has been inspirational for others. “There are no words to describe what he has brought to the Tulane Recovery Community. He has visibly shared his experiences and been authentically who he is and done that in a way that is understandable and palatable to our students. His contributions have been life-shifting for others.”

As a law student and in the classroom, Tedder embraced helping others, working the summer of his first year at the Orleans Public Defender’s Office and with the Innocence Project New Orleans and his second year at the (Seattle) King County Department of Public Defense, where he will be employed after graduation. His experiences, he said, have given him a rapport with clients, and provided insights to his supervising attorneys, who sometimes didn’t understand the cycle of addiction and recovery.

Tedder last fall became a student-attorney in the
Tulane Criminal Justice Clinic.

As a 3L, he is a student-attorney in the Tulane Criminal Justice Clinic.

“Clients are afraid and not always forthright, and my insights have sometimes opened up doors for their defense or allowed us to have other witnesses that we might not have had because the client was afraid of revealing certain things,” he said. “I feel like I have been able to help in a meaningful way.”

When he arrived in New Orleans three years ago, Tedder worked at a sober living facility and settled there as a manager as he was starting his law school journey. The owners, he said, were fantastic and connected him to the Tulane Recovery Community,  which was just beginning on Tulane’s campus. Goldberg was happy to have the support, he said, and Tedder became a staple at the once-a-week meetings.

The TRC has grown in those years, and now offers multiple meetings, outings during Mardi Gras and a myriad of other support programs. Tedder has been a leader, not only guiding other students but literally driving them to sober Spring Break and organizing sober events, like on his birthday when he orchestrated a night of adult skating.

“He has such a magnetic personality to bring people together in a very authentic way,” said Goldberg. “And he has been an example that you don’t stop having fun because you’re in recovery. He always has an idea, or a plan and he just proves that you can have a good time sober.”

As he prepares for his move to Seattle, Tedder has mixed feelings. Tulane has been an amazing experience, and he feels he has family across campus, not just at the law school.

“I’ve met some incredible people here who have shown me the way,” said. “This is such a close community. The experiences in the (law) clinic, the connections with other students, working together on cases that matter. And with the TRC and the friends I’ve made there, they will likely be my friends for life. Those are things that I will take with me to continue to do the work that directly impacts people’s lives.”


If you are interested in recovery resources or someone you know needs recovery support, please reach out to Jacob Goldberg at jgoldberg6@tulane.edu or call or text 225-202-6342.