MARSHALL, Texas (KXAN) — Students graduating from an historically Black college in east Texas learned about a generous gift before they got their diplomas this weekend: they are now debt free.
At Saturday’s graduation ceremony, Wiley College in Marshall, Texas surprised its graduates by announcing that an anonymous donor paid off each of their student loan balances — an amount exceeding $300,000. The college posted a video on social media showing its president and CEO, Herman J. Felton Jr., breaking the news to many cheers and gasps from the students.
“You are debt free! You do not owe the college a penny,” Felton told the graduating class of 2022. “If you have a balance, you had a balance. You no longer have a balance.”
Wiley College posted online that this sizable donation comes ahead of the school beginning its celebration in July to mark 150 years since its founding. College leaders said tuition costs about $17,500 a year.
Movie fans may recognize the name of the school because the success of some of its students served as the basis of the 2007 film “The Great Debaters” with Denzel Washington. According to the college, the movie “captured the fame and notoriety of Professor Melvin B. Tolson and the intellectual legacy of four former students — Hobart Jarrett, Henry Heights, James Farmer, Jr. and Henrietta Bell (Wells). It was their 1935 victory over that year’s National Champions that was the subject of the movie, The Great Debaters, which also won national acclaim.”
Washington donated $1 million after the movie’s release to revive the college’s debate team.