One of the challenges of higher education is navigating student debt post-graduation. But thanks to Wilberforce University, an HBCU in Ohio, students in the school's graduating class of 2021 had their loans forgiven.  

In total, students had over $375,000 in debt and fines forgiven by the university, according to Dayton Daily News. The students were made aware of the graduation gift during the commencement exercises on Saturday.

“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. So, therefore, the Wilberforce University Board of Trustees has authorized me to forgive any debt,” Elfred Anthony Pinkard, president of Wilberforce, said as the crowd cheered in the socially distanced ceremony. “Your accounts have been cleared, and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything.“

"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,” Pinkard said in a press release.

In conjunction with scholarships offered by the United Negro College Fund, Inc., Jack and Jill, Inc. and other funding sources, Wilberforce amassed enough capital to forgive the debts and fines of students of the 2021 graduating class, according to the press release.

“I couldn't believe it when he said it. It's a blessing. I can use that money and invest it into my future," former student Rodman Allen said, expressing his joy at the announcement.

Other graduates such as twins Taylor and Tyler Thompson spoke about being extremely grateful for the unexpected gift that will impact their futures. 

"It was very heartwarming because now we can actually, like clear our minds and actually focus," Tyler, who plans to enter law enforcement, said.

"It makes me want to do more actually, now that I know I don't have to worry about it," Taylor, who wants to launch her own real estate business, added.

During the coronavirus outbreak in spring 2020, Wilberforce students received financial relief from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund set up through the CARES ACT. Without this much-needed assistance, some students wouldn't have been able to register for classes for the following semester.

According to recent statistics, Black students accumulate nearly $53,000 in school debt compared to $28,000 by their white counterparts. As Blavity previously reported, student loan forgiveness is an important legislative goal that members of the Democratic-led Senate are lobbying for. 

Wilberforce University is a four-year liberal arts institution affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church is located in Wilberforce, Ohio, northeast of Cincinnati. It is the nation’s oldest, private HBCU and has around 500 students.