A private historically Black university in Ohio surprised the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 by clearing their school debt.
Wilberforce University President Elfred Anthony Pinkard announced the news at Saturday’s commencement ceremony, which was attended by both graduating classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because we are in awe of your strengths and perseverance. Because you have made your family and yourselves proud. Because you have shown you are capable of doing work under difficult circumstances. Because you represent the best of your generation, we wish to give you a fresh start,” Pinkard said in a video posted by CBS Newspath.
Students immediately erupted in loud cheers and applause with many of those who gathered at the Gaston Lewis Gymnasium raising their hands in the air and jumping up and down.
“Your accounts have been cleared and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything,” he said.
In an online statement, the president said the school is “honored to be able to give them a fresh start by relieving their student debt to the university.”
The total amount of debt cleared is more than $375,000. According to the school, 166 students graduated on Saturday. The school was able to wipe account balances through a number of scholarships, including from including the United Negro College Fund and Jack and Jill of America.
Graduate Rodman Allen said in a school press release that he’s going to use the extra money to “invest it into my future.”
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it,” Allen said. “It’s a blessing.”
Wilberforce University is located about 60 miles from Cincinnati and tuition costs just over $13,000 per year for full-time undergraduate students. Founded in 1856, it is the country’s oldest private HBCU, owned and operated by African Americans, according to its website.