Wilberforce University president Elfred Anthony Pinkard surprised 2020 and 2021 graduates of the institution during a joint commencement ceremony Saturday when he announced that their financial debts to the university would be forgiven.
“Your accounts have been cleared and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything,” Pinkard told the crowd.
Students reacted with cheers and applause.
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it,” graduate Rodman Allen said in a university press release. “It’s a blessing.”
The debt relief was funded by scholarships from organizations including Jack and Jill Inc., which focuses on initiatives that benefit young people, and the United Negro College Fund, which represents private historically Black colleges and universities, CNN reported. In total, the university cleared more than $375,000 in fines, fees and tuition owed to the institution by students and parents. The program, however, does not cover loans taken out by students or their parents.
The move comes after an earlier effort by the university to help lighten students’ financial burdens last spring. The university used emergency relief funds from the CARES Act to wipe away outstanding balances that could prevent Wilberforce students from enrolling in their fall 2020 classes.
“Because you have shown that 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.