When I was in high school, my guidance counselor told me that a Morehouse College education was out of my reach. It didn’t matter that I showed promise as a leader and a scholar, or that I had been wearing suits to my New York City school since the seventh grade because my parents wanted me dressed to serve the Lord.
When my counselor looked at me, all that she could see was a kid from Harlem with hard luck.
Now I am a graduate of Morehouse College. My name is Elijah Dormeus.
My father had passed away when I was seven, leaving my mother with nine children and mostly church clothes in the closet. My mother juggled minimum wage jobs to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
My guidance counselor wanted to paint a realistic picture of my options senior year. She said basically, “Since your mom is broke, you can’t afford to go to college — quit while you’re ahead.”
But a Morehouse alumnus named O.T. Wells happened to spot me singing with five other members of the Harlem vocal ensemble choral group at an IHOP down on 135th street; a day later, I was left with a different impression.
As I was walking out of IHOP, Mr. Wells stopped me and asked what school I attended and I responded, “The Frederick Douglass Academy.” He then proceeded to ask me if I was interested in going to college, and I hesitantly said with great uncertainty, “Yes … I just don’t know where.”
Upon my last words to him, he said, “If you’re interested in going to Morehouse College, here’s my business card.” He encouraged me to apply to Morehouse and even offered to write a letter on my behalf.
A month after the deadline, I completed my application. I said a prayer, mailed it in. The price tag was steep; I didn’t know how I could afford to attend Morehouse, but I felt a calling to stay there. The possibilities that come with studying at an institution with the legacy of Morehouse College would be worth the investment.
Out of my comfort zone — and onto campus
The first day I got there, I wanted to leave. The anxiety that I felt about paying for college was a burden on my chest.
But I pushed through. I have a hustling spirit. My mother always taught her children to fight for what we wanted, and to never let anyone tell us what we can or can’t do.
Diving headfirst out of my comfort zone, I found men that I could look up to. From the professors I met to the New Student Orientation leaders, they all gave me tips about surviving the workload at Morehouse. I admired the fact that they were like me — supportive, strong, and sincere. Their suits got me. I wasn’t strange anymore. I was at home.
I found a true home away from home within the business department, where I fit in well with the men being groomed to run corporations. I landed internships as a development officer for the Robin Hood Foundation in New York and as a project manager for ReeHorst Hotel in Amsterdam.
Then, after years of sweating over student loans and a full-ride fellowship junior year, I had reached the final stage of my undergraduate education. Proving my high school counselor wrong. Proving to myself I could do anything as long as my heart was in the right place and my feet ordered by the Lord.
‘I thought it was a joke’
Upon graduation, the only thing that ran across my mind was the amount of time it would take to pay off my $94,000 student loan. So, at graduation, as I walked down the aisle towards my future, I could not help but think, what is next? It was hard to enjoy this moment I worked so hard for with this financial burden haunting me.
As I took my seat, and as Robert F. Smith stood up to address the Class of 2019, my mind was torn between the years I was leaving behind as an undergraduate student and the years awaiting. As he unpacked his message and the Georgian sun crept upon me and my brothers, he stated, “This is my class, Class of 2019. My family is designing a grant to eliminate all your student loans.”
When Smith had first said this, I thought it was a joke to wake most of the sleeping graduates up.
When he repeated the statement for a second time, I enthusiastically jumped up into the air and onto my chair and screamed, “Keep speaking, keep speaking! Tell me more!” As he went to take his seat, I did not want this moment to end.
Sitting back down in my chair, I had broken down into tears. Words couldn’t describe how I felt in that moment.
I was thankful to God for doing the impossible and for Robert Smith for answering the call.
Knowing all things are possible
My four years had come with so many financial struggles. At the beginning of my freshman year, I did not have room and board, books, or anything — and full circle, in my senior year I went through the same obstacles. Semester after semester, year after year, the struggle to afford college was a burden on me and my family as it had been for so many other Morehouse Men.
So when Robert Smith had presented this gift to the Class of 2019, it was a blessing like no other.
I turned to look a few rows behind me and saw my mother with tears of joy streaming down her face. I could see how proud she was. In that same moment, it was no longer the sun that was beaming down on me, but my father’s presence surrounding me, making me certain he was there too.
Now with the blessing of this gift and no longer having to worry about student loans, I can now start on the path I truly want to take towards my purpose. Since high school, I have been passionate about giving back to my community and making sure that no matter what, students know they can attend the college of their dreams. I have traveled to different middle schools and high schools throughout the country encouraging students to follow their true path.
I am now creating a scholarship of my own to make sure that students who are passionate about attending college and putting in work can afford their dreams. If Mr. Smith’s gift has taught me anything, it is that all things are possible. If I can get through all these obstacles and have a light at the end of the tunnel, then anyone can achieve it.
Elijah Dormeus is a 2019 graduate of Morehouse College now an Account Executive for AT&T National Business in Dallas, Texas. Learn more about his future engagements and projects on Instagram, @elijahnesly.