A total of 166 graduates of Wilberforce University got the graduation gift of a lifetime earlier this week. During the school’s graduation ceremony, University President Elfred Anthony Pinkard announced that the school would be forgiving all student loan debt owed by the graduates.
Minyvonne Burke of NBC News reported that the gift from the nation’s oldest private HBCU applied to the classes of 2020 and 2021. Both graduating classes attended the 2021 ceremony because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to cancel the 2020 ceremony.
“Your accounts have been cleared and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything,” Pinkard said to the overjoyed students. “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 and because you represent the best of your generation, we wish to give you a fresh start.”
According to Burke, 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.”
In a statement released after the ceremony’s surprise announcement, Pinkard said the school was “honored to be able to give them a fresh start by relieving their student debt to the university.”
Founded in 1856 and located about 60 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio, tuition for full-time undergraduate students at Wilberforce University costs approximately $13,000 a year.
Burke reported that Wilberforce University forgave more than $375,000 in debt and student loans and will make up the lost funds through “a number of scholarships, including from the United Negro College Fund and Jack and Jill of America.”