With the unexpected help of a friendly stranger, Latonya Young (BS ’21) was finally able to complete her associate degree. Inspired by this strange friend, she will be the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

By Kysa Anderson Daniels

The story of Latonya Young’s longing for college – and the generous ridesharing that helped make it happen – went viral when she graduated from Georgia State Perimeter College in 2019.

Now she is graduating again. This spring, Young will receive a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the university’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

She pays tribute to her chance meeting with Kevin Esch in 2018 and his help in overcoming a financial hurdle as the spark that ignited her urge to graduate.

Kevin Esch (left) and Latonya Young on “The Ellen Show” with Ellen DeGeneres.

When they appeared on The Ellen Show in January 2020, they discussed their budding friendship and Young’s college goals.

“Kevin is like my power ranger,” said Young. “He really inspired me to excel in the classroom and in life.”

Esch met Young, a 44-year-old single mother of three sons who was in the back seat of her car. Young was a rideshare driver who struggled to make ends meet while working as a hairdresser. She picked up Esch, an Atlanta real estate manager, after attending an Atlanta United soccer game.

During the drive, they talked about a variety of things, including why Young stopped studying at Perimeter College after she finally got her degree in general educational development. She explained to Esch that her college account was blocked because of an unpaid bill.

Young also said that if she had saved enough to pay the bill and sign up again, she would have to redirect the money to family needs or medical bills from operations she had performed.

They said goodbye, and Esch wished Young well and asked for her business card. The following week he visited Georgia State and paid out the $ 693 Young owed the university, paving the way for her to go back to school.

The story attracted widespread attention, beginning with an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, followed by contributions from People, CNN and ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​and international media.

Esch was in attendance when Young graduated from Perimeter College with an associate degree in December 2019. And he’ll be back on May 6th when she’s the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

“I’m incredibly proud of Latonya for achieving her goal of finishing college,” said Esch. “She made it through health complications and a pandemic during work and school. She changed her life and that of her boys forever. “

A lot has happened since Young got to know Esch. She has become a substitute teacher, moved out of subsidized housing and wrote an autobiography. She also interned with Six Flags Over Georgia in the security department and received a scholarship from the Jeannette Rankin Foundation that gives older students like Young money to go to college.

She also used a portion of the $ 25,000 she received while appearing on “The Ellen Show” to repay college loans.

Her middle son, Jakobe Young, is now following in her footsteps and has started studying business administration at Perimeter.

Young says she is a far cry from the girl who dropped out of Tifton, Georgia high school and struggled with the law because she fought, unknowingly wrote bad checks, and generally went the wrong way.

Young’s ultimate goal is to use her criminal justice degree to serve as a federal probation officer. She also wants to use her life story to encourage others to stay in school and follow a positive path.

While media attention has waned over the story of Esch and Young, Young is committed to continuing to make Esch – and himself – proud.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” she said.