Exactly one decade ago, in the midst of a mundane graduation speech to a sixth-grade class in East Harlem, Eugene Lang heard himself make this offer: Stay in school, and I'll pay your college tuition.
On Monday, Lang and the class he adopted return to the school for a 10th reunion at which they will toast the first two of the original students to receive baccalaureate degrees.
"It's sort of a sentimental journey," the 71-year-old multimillionaire said Friday. "My 54 dreamers are now almost 10,000 dreamers across the country."
Lang's unique form of adoption has been institutionalized in the I Have a Dream Foundation, which supports similar programs for disadvantaged students in 41 cities. He has been mythologized as the businessman who succeeded where educators failed.
Seven of the 61 students in the class moved away or otherwise dropped out of sight. Of the remaining 54, 45 have obtained either a high school degree or the equivalent. Thirty-two of them have gone on to college.