In the fall of 2018, Megan Pete consistently sat in the front row of Melanie Wilson-Lawson's healthcare administration class at Texas Southern University, listening intently to the professor, asking questions and completing her assignments.
Wilson-Lawson said she didn't realize until well into the semester that her standout student had an alter ego away from the Houston campus and was on the verge of becoming a world-famous superstar in the entertainment business.
Four years later, that engaged, unassuming student is better known as rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who this week became the first Black woman to grace the cover of Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30 edition recognizing North America's top entrepreneurs who have yet to reach age 30.
"She came to class professional. She came to class engaged. She was a student," Wilson-Lawson said. "You would have never known she had a whole hottie world going on outside that classroom."
The drive and dedication that Megan Thee Stallion displayed as a student at Texas Southern University – where she earned a degree after becoming a hip-hop star – explains why she has become so successful, according to Wilson-Lawson and Jabari Young, the Forbes reporter who wrote the cover story. And so does the vision possessed by Megan Thee Stallion, who predicted her stardom in conversations with her favorite college professor, according to Wilson-Lawson.
As Young reported in his cover story, the 27-year-old Megan Thee Stallion earned an estimated $13 million this year in concert ticket sales, merchandise, endorsements and royalties. She recently signed endorsement deals with brands such as Cash App, Nike, Popeyes and Revlon.
While hosting and performing on Saturday Night Live in October, Megan Thee Stallion told Young, "I can't slow down right now. ... I'm trying to really build something."
"Everything she showed in that classroom showed up while I was researching her, and it's showing up now," Young said. "She wants to do the work."
Megan Thee Stallion made Forbes' 30 Under 30 list three years ago as a 24-year-old. While she was not technically in the 2023 list unveiled this week, she was selected to be featured on the cover as part of the 30 Under 30 project, according to Young. He said such an honor is reserved for successful businesspeople who display authenticity, unwavering commitment and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Megan Thee Stallion, who graduated from Pearland High School, achieved stardom while coping with the 2019 deaths of her mother and grandmother. She ceremonially received a key to the City of Houston on May 2 of this year – the birthday of her mother and grandmother.
In February, on Megan Thee Stallion's birthday, she launched the Pete and Thomas Foundation – named after her late parents, Joseph Pete Jr. and Holly Thomas – to help women, children and seniors in underserved parts of Houston, with a focus on education, health, housing and wellness.
And in September, in conjunction with the release of an album called "Traumazine," Megan Thee Stallion launched a website that includes a therapist locator as well as a collection of links and phone numbers for mental health organizations and hotlines. The site focuses on resources for the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities.
Wilson-Lawson, who has kept in touch with Megan Thee Stallion, said she has remained true to her values and is much the same person today as she was in 2018. She continues to hone her craft as an entertainer as well, with Young saying the rapper keeps a running file on her iPhone that contains potential song lyrics.
"It looks like a 16,000-word (news) story," Young said. "She kept scrolling down and down, and it was all words."
Wilson-Lawson said her former pupil's appearance on the cover of Forbes, while historic, also is a "beautiful expression of who she really is as a person, which is a go-getter."
It's also a source of pride for Texas Southern University, a historically Black university in the heart of Houston, and for Megan Thee Stallion's hometown in general.
"I am beyond proud – I am ecstatic – because it's not every day you get to see a student blossom to the level at which she has in the short time frame in which she has done it," Wilson-Lawson said. "This is only the beginning. She's just getting started."