Given his incredible story, it’s amazing enough that Lawrence Lawson has survived such a difficult childhood to climb to the top of his class at New Era Academy in Baltimore.
But even this striving high school senior could have never guessed that when he was tapped to star in a new Public Service Announcement campaign touting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) that his co-star would be none other than First Lady Michelle Obama.
But there Lawson is, explaining how FAFSA works in the PSA that debuts across Viacom’s TV networks, including MTV, on Thursday. You can see now it on MTV.com and the getschooled.com site.
“Hey, I’m about to graduate high school and I’m here to talk to you about filling out your [FAFSA],” Lawson says in the ad. “Completing your FAFSA is the first step toward getting thousands of dollars in financial aid to help you pursue your education past high school.”
The application, which covers a range of federal student aid programs, as well as more than 600 in-state programs, asks for some basic information, including the applicant (or their parents’) income and assets. And, sitting right next to Lawson in a classroom, Michelle Obama wants you to know it’s quick and easy to fill out something that could be a crucial part of your college dreams.
“Thirty minutes for something that could mean thousands of dollars for you and your family? Now that’s amazing,” the First Lady says of the forms that can be found at www.studentaid.gov.
Lawson knows all about amazing. Born in Baltimore in 1996, he moved to Atlanta with his mother at age eight following his father’s death and was hospitalized a year later after a grand mal seizure that required rehab so he could learn to read, walk and speak again.
After losing his mother when he was 12, Lawson lived with an aunt before returning to Baltimore in 2011, where he has interned at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and gotten on the honor roll at New Era Academy, where he is this year’s school valedictorian.
The ad campaign is a collaboration between the First Lady and the non-profit Get Schooled to help convince the 1 million high school seniors who qualify but don’t fill out FAFSAs to get in the game and not leave money on the table.
The U.S. Department of Education doles out nearly $150 billion every year to help students pay for college in the form of grants, low-interest loans and work-study funds. Many states and colleges also use FAFSA information to determine eligibility for state and school aid and some private financial aid providers may use the FAFSA data to determine if an applicant qualifies for their aid.
“So get the word out [about www.studentaid.gov],” Obama encourages high-schoolers. “Text it, tweet it, take a selfie and Instagram it.”