After being canceled in 2020, graduation ceremonies are taking on new meaning this year.
Each one offers recognition for hard work, challenges overcome, and hopes for new beginnings. But Latonya Young’s story frankly brought me to tears.
Ms. Young is a mom of three who worked as a hairdresser and drove for Uber to take care of her boys. Since she was a girl she'd dreamed of becoming a lawyer, she explained to a passenger she picked up one evening. She had been working toward her associate degree when a serious car accident derailed her plans, and about $700 in unpaid fees kept her from returning to Georgia State University.
The passenger, Ken Esch, gave her a $150 tip and urged her not to give up. The next Monday, he paid off the $693, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2020. His generosity and faith in her were the catalyst she needed, she told the AJC. Ms. Young earned her associate degree before the pandemic hit, with Mr. Esch there to cheer her on.
“It’s not how you start but how you finish in life,” she said then. A pandemic and two hospitalizations didn’t stop her from persevering.
This month, she received her bachelor’s degree from GSU, in criminal justice, and Mr. Esch was there to celebrate with her.
He now sits on the board of a nonprofit that offers scholarships to older women to return to college – an invitation that came from his generosity to Ms. Young, who received a scholarship from the group. “She’s kind of a shining example of being able to push through and do it,” he told the AJC.
Next up for Ms. Young: a new job. Then law school.