Latonya Young and Kevin Esch pose for a picture at a December 2019 ceremony in which she received a criminal justice degree from Georgia State University. Esch, who met Young a year earlier when he was an Uber passenger in her vehicle, paid a student debt for her. CONTRIBUTED.

Georgia State student earns degree after Uber passenger pays off debt

A Georgia State University student said she’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support after sharing her story of how a stranger helped pay her tuition.

Latonya Young, 43, earned her associate degree in criminal justice a few weeks ago from the university and plans to take classes at Georgia State to pursue her bachelor’s degree in that field this month.

“I’m ready and I’m excited to go back to school,” Young, an aspiring federal probation officer, said in a telephone interview Friday.

Young was driving for Uber about a year ago when she and a passenger, Kevin Esch, had a conversation about their challenges. Young, a mother of three, explained she had a tuition debt of $693 and couldn’t continue her education until the money was paid.

Latonya Young poses for a photo with her family after receiving her associate's degree in criminal justice from Georgia State University after the December 2019 commencement ceremony. CONTRIBUTED.

Esch encouraged her to find a way to continue her education. He gave her a $150 tip after arriving at his destination. Unbeknownst to her, he paid off the tuition debt the following day and Young completed her coursework.

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The two kept in touch. Tears fell down Young’s cheeks when she saw Esch before the commencement ceremony last month.

The story, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has gained national attention, surprising Young. She said she told the story to share a positive tale about race relations. Young is black and Esch is white.

“There’s so much division in our country. There’s so much racism in our country. I wanted people to see something good out there,” she said.

Finances are still a challenge for Young, a hairstylist, whose youngest son is 13. She’s hoping to keep student loans at a minimum. 

Young, who graduated Georgia State’s Clarkston campus, said she’s been inundated with people seeking advice about attending college. 

“My advice is go where you feel comfortable,” she said.

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