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Morehouse Grad De’Jaun Davis-Correia Opens Up About Having His Student Loans Paid Off

De’Jaun Davis-Correia worked two jobs through his time at Morehouse College. He logged hours at an Atlanta Best Buy and, his senior year, began working at an electrical engineering company.

The physics major received additional help paying his tuition from donations.

And yet, after his own earnings and the donations, Davis-Correia had what he estimates to be $55,000 in debt from student loans when he walked at graduation on Sunday.

And then something miraculous happened. The debt vanished.

As he sat in the audience with his friends from the physics program, the commencement speaker, billionaire Robert F. Smith, founder of Vista Equity Partners private equity firm, announced he was paying off the student loans for every single Morehouse Class of 2019 graduate.

That means Davis-Correia and his 400 classmates will start their post-college lives with a clean slate.

“Some of us knew the severity of the importance of what he said right then and there, as soon as he said it.

Some of us were like, wait, what? What did you say? Did you really say that?” Davis-Correia says. “Then, I was like, what’s the fine print here? I’d love to know the process that it will go thorough.

Is it going through FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid ] first and then the school? Or will it go through the school and then they pay FAFSA? How will that work?”

Davis-Correia has the diagnostic brain of an engineer—and he’s been that way since he was a kid. Growing up in Savannah, Georgia, he spent his childhood tinkering with Legos and K’Nex building toys.

In high school, he was on his robotics team, which won two state titles during his time.

In between robotics competitions, homework, and basketball, Davis-Correia worked with his family to advocate for the exoneration of his uncle.

Davis-Correia is the nephew of Troy Davis, who was executed in 2011 after being convicted of the 1989 murder of a Savannah police offer. Davis maintained his innocence until his death, and high-profile figures like Jimmy Carter and Harry Belafonte spoke out against the execution.

At the age of 11, Davis-Correia gave his first speech about the case and then went on to travel around the country for the next eight years talking about the criminal justice system, which earned him a spot on The Root’s 25 Young Futurists list.

Davis was convicted on the evidence of eye witnesses, but, according to The Innocence Project, seven of the nine witnesses who identified Davis as the shooter recanted their testimony after the trial.

The case wound up at the Supreme Court, which reviewed but declined to act on a petition from Davis’ lawyers to stay the execution based on what they called civil rights violations. The Innocence Project, the NAACP, and Amnesty International all fought to exonerate Davis, and high-profile supporters spoke out in the months before his death.

“If one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated,” former President Jimmy Carter said at the time.

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His uncle was in prison for his entire life, but Davis-Correia stayed in touch with visits and calls. His mother would send Davis-Correia‘s homework to Davis, so he could talk to his young nephew about school.

“Troy always liked to stayed up on his Ps and Qs,” Davis-Correia says. “Troy was always saying, ‘Teach me, I want to learn something.

’ He knew by me being able to teach him, it would strengthen my education because if you can teach, then you really know it.”

Although Davis-Correia was close with his uncle and traveled the country as a teenager advocating for his exoneration, his graduation was his moment to step out of that shadow to start his own path.

“I’m a very independent person. I didn’t want to be out here saying, I’m nephew of Troy Davis, help me.

No. I never wanted that kind of sympathy.

If you wanted to give then give, but I never had my hand out. I didn’t want people to think maybe I was going to law school or that I wanted to become an activist full-time.

And I was like, no, I’m here to support my family because it’s a cause I’m passionate about,” the 24-year-old says. “But I’m also passionate about engineering.

Once I got to college, I could lay low and be under the radar. I just grinded it out and did it my way.

Davis-Correia’s mother, Martina Correia, worked as a registered nurse before spending years advocating full-time for her brother, Davis, who was put to death by lethal injection in September 2011. His senior year of high school, Davis-Correia’s mother died after a battle with cancer.

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“Before she passed, her two things were, she wanted to see me graduate and she wanted to see Troy get exonerated,” Davis-Correia says.

“She didn’t get to see either, but spiritually she did get to see me graduate.”

After his mother‘s death, Davis-Correia forged ahead with his dream of studying engineering at Morehouse College.

It was a professor who challenged him to try physics. The physics courses were harder than those in engineering, but he realized he loved learning about processes and theories.

Davis-Correia walked with the Morehouse Class of 2019 Sunday afternoon, but he officially graduated in December with a degree in physics and a minor in math. In January, he started his career, working as an engineer in Baltimore.

A zealous planner, he scheduled out his strategy for paying his student loans more than two years ago—when the loan bills started rolling in July 1, he’d put away $350 a month. That would leave enough for his expenses, as well as provide him with money to put into savings.

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Now, he’ll have an extra few hundred dollars each month.

“I saw a meme that said, ‘build in your 20s, grind in your 30s, and retire in your 40s.’ Ever since I saw that, probably 10 years ago, I was like, yep, that’s my plan,” he says.

“And now, with the loans paid off, it just opens even more doors.”

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