Young earned an associate’s degree in the months leading up to the start of the pandemic. The story has appeared in hundreds of posts and shows, and both have appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
To exploreRead the original and inspiring story of AJC’s Latonya Young in 2020
Young continued his education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree. She felt both blessed and stressed by the attention: she didn’t want to disappoint anyone, let alone Esch.
“I have had so many people from other countries contacting me,” she said recently. “Just telling me that they were proud of me and that I inspired them.”
Esch, meanwhile, was planning to travel overseas after their appearance on the DeGeneres show: she granted him free travel anywhere in the world and he booked a flight to Australia.
“I was so excited – so excited about – this and then COVID-19,” he said recently.
Latonya Young was able to earn her associate degree on the Georgia State University Perimeter College campus with the help of Kevin Esch, one of Young’s Uber riders. Esch paid Young’s unpaid college balance, allowing him to re-enroll. (Courtesy)
He plans to attend Young’s graduation ceremony on May 6 and has played down his role. “She did it. I just made it easier a little bit, ”he said.
Esch was invited to join the board of directors of the Athens-based Jeannette Rankin Foundation, which for more than four decades has awarded scholarships to older, low-income women like Young. (The organization also gave her scholarships. And the DeGeneres show surprised her with a gift of $ 25,000, which she said she used to offset tens of thousands of dollars in college debt. )
“I realized there are a ton of other women out there who are just scared to go back to school because they don’t think they can do it,” Esch said, “and she is a shining example of being able to go through it and do it.
Older students like Young are more likely to graduate, said Timothy Renick, executive director of the National Institute for Student Success at GSU: around 40% nationally versus around 60% for older students. youth.
A temporary departure from school can derail plans for good, he said. “You don’t want students to ever lose that momentum because life gets in the way.”
Although she was hospitalized twice during the pandemic, once for a nagging foot injury from a car accident years ago, and a second time for digestive issues, Young insisted. She said a classmate she met in a class just before going online offered crucial support.
Essence Johnson, 24, shared lecture notes with her when she was in the hospital and encouraged her. Johnson said Young returned the favor, also cheering her on: Johnson’s mother is suffering from a serious illness and Johnson has considered taking time off from school to care for her.
“Don’t let that stop you,” she recalls, telling him Young. “Because your mother wouldn’t want you to stop.”
Latonya Young poses for a photo at the Georgia State University Student Center in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on April 29, 2021. Young, 44, mother of three, will finally graduate from Georgia State University after many interruptions in his school career. due to difficulties. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Credit: Rebecca Wright
Credit: Rebecca Wright
Two of Young’s three boys are now adults, including one who is a freshman at GSU and, like her, has taken numerous classes through a computer from their home. Her youngest son is in eighth grade online. A former substitute teacher, Young returned to this job during the pandemic, after losing her car to the deer while driving someone in Alabama for a fee.
Young has become an icon in Tifton, her hometown in Tift County, a three-hour drive south of Atlanta on I-75.
“People, they see her on TV, or they read about her and say, ‘I know her’. It really gives you a sense of pride to see a young person show up despite the hard knocks and the challenges, ”said Larry Mims, a retired state court judge.
An old friend of the family found herself in the awkward position of convicting her of a felony when she was in her twenties.
(The judge does not remember the charge; Young said it involved fighting and said the case was closed.)
“As I always do with young people, I started talking to him about his future,” recalls Mims.
Unbeknownst to him, Young had presented him as a role model, a native son who had managed to become a lawyer. His favorable image of him was actually reinforced by the impartial and professional manner in which he handled his case, she said.
Young said Mims – and the example set by a cousin couple who went to college – fueled her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Young specialized in criminal justice and starting an internship as a security dispatcher at Six Flags this summer. She hopes to land a good job after that, so that she can pay off her remaining college debt and save for her next step: that law degree.