WILBERFORCE, Ohio – Wilberforce University graduates had another reason to celebrate after an announcement early last Saturday for classes of 2020 and 2021.
University President Elfred Anthony Pinkard announced at the end of the morning ceremony at Gaston Lewis Gymnasium that graduates’ financial debts to the university were being wiped out. With the help of the United Negro College Fund, Jack and Jill Inc. and funding from other sources, $ 375,000 in debts and fines owed to the school by graduates of both classes was supported.
The graduates and their families were overwhelmed with joy and emotion.
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it,” Detroit graduate Rodman Allen told the Dayton Daily News. “I now know that God will be with me. Now I can use this money and invest in my future.
While students will still be responsible for federal loans and debts owed to other lenders, several students have said the unexpected gift will help them start the next phase of their lives with less anxiety.
“During the ceremony, I thought, ‘I have to pay off all this debt. I have to find a job. But as soon as Dr Pinkard said “debt free,” I didn’t have to worry about anything else, ”said Joshua Spears.
Since the start of the pandemic, the historically black private university, founded in 1856, has provided a significant portion of student financial aid. Students received reimbursements for food and accommodation when the campus closed in 2020. But since March 2020, scholarships and other institutional funding have covered more than 90% of students’ tuition bills.
Dr Pinkard said that after getting approval for the debt cancellation from the university’s board of directors, he kept the information secret until the beginning.
“As these graduates begin their lives as responsible adults, we are honored to be able to give them a fresh start by relieving their student debt to the university,” Dr. Pinkard said in a statement.
“They didn’t allow a global pandemic to derail their journey to complete college, and I think it’s an incredible recognition of their resilience and courage.”
Dr Pinkard said he hoped that “the university’s demonstration of our appreciation for their resilience and courage instills in (graduates) a willingness to come back and help others as well.”
More than 160 students received their diplomas during the ceremony. Wilberforce also posthumously awarded honorary degrees to civil rights activists Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer, both of Mississippi.
Mr. Evers, an NCCAP field secretary who helped organize boycotts and protests to fight racial segregation, was assassinated at the age of 37 outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, by a white nationalist in June 1963.
Ms. Hamer, who worked for decades for suffrage and women’s rights, helped organize Mississippi’s Freedom Summer in 1964 to register African-American voters. She was also a co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which she sought to seat as the official state delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She died in 1977 at the age of 59.