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The president of Philander Smith College surprised graduates during last weekend’s commencement ceremonies with the news that the college had closed out approximately $80,000 in outstanding balances held by graduates in the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

Philander Smith, a private historically Black college in Arkansas, received a $54,000 grant from the Jack and Jill Foundation’s College GAP Fund to help support the debt erasure.

“We are immensely excited to be able to do this for our new graduates,” President Roderick L. Smothers Sr. said in a press release. “And, although this gesture may not entirely eliminate their student debt load, it will certainly allow them to receive their diplomas immediately.”

Philander Smith conferred degrees last weekend to 175 graduates of the Class of 2021 and to 120 graduates from the Class of 2020, whose graduation ceremony was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.