Graduating from college is an accomplishment that anyone should be proud of. After all, college is far from easy. Think about it, there always seems to be an exam to study for, a paper to write, and a presentation to prepare. It’s also the first time that many young people learn to live on their own.
Unfortunately, those bills just don’t go away and the house won’t clean itself!
Still, it is all worth it in the end because very few things can compare to seeing all of your hard work pay off. Without question, earning a diploma is genuinely one of the best tools to have in one’s arsenal.
While this may sound like the end of a journey and the start of another, for many students there’s still one thing that keeps graduates from receiving their beloved diploma – student debt.
In some cases, students who are in debt are unable to graduate and receive their diplomas. Obviously, this isn’t the ideal situation for any student.
That’s when 47-year-old business owner, Frank Baker and his wife, Laura Day Baker, stepped in to help.
Baker was inspired by his colleague, Robert Smith, who paid off the debt for graduates at Morehouse, a historically black men’s college, last year. It was something both unheard of and inspiring.
That inspiration encouraged Baker to pay off the debt for 50 graduates at Spelman, a historically black women’s college, this year.
Both schools are located in Atlanta and though neither Smith nor Baker attended them, they understand the additional challenges black students face when graduating from school and with debt in tow.
“We need to make sure these schools continue to be viable. We are all part of the same community. It doesn’t matter if I went to the school or not,” Baker says.
Baker is the founder of Siris Capital, a private equity firm in New York. He and his wife, an interior designer and philanthropist, had been speaking with Spelman’s board of trustees about implementing a financial program for graduates. But when the COVID19 pandemic hit, they decided to accelerate the program.
Therefore, the couple gifted $1 million for a scholarship that would help graduating seniors with student debt over the next three years. $250,000 has already been used to eliminate the debt of 50 students who were at risk of not graduating due to an unpaid balance on their tuition.
Specifically, they wanted to help rising seniors who simply “ran out of gas financially.”
“We believe it is critical that talented women finish college and confidently enter – free of undue financial stress – the initial stage of their professional careers,” the couple stated.
While many students benefited from the scholarship, three young women shared their stories with Good Morning America.
Thulani Vereen, Erena Reese, and Gabrielle Sumpter were at the top of their graduating class. However, there was $34,000 worth of debt between them.
“It’s really meaningful that he invested in an institution that he knew was cultivating and developing young black women,” Sumpter said.
Vereen shared that the support lifted a huge burden off herself and her mother.
Reese stated that she wants to impact the world by educating others about the health disparities that impact people of color.
“We live in a world full of haves and have-nots. And people of color tend to be in the have-nots and the biggest distinguishing factor is education,” Baker told Good Morning America.
The Bakers have a 12-year-old daughter of their own who also played a role in their decision to help the women of Spelman.
“We’re having more conversations about, really what it’s like to be a black woman. And getting her prepared for the headwinds that she will invariably face,” Baker said.
Fortunately, the sky is the limit for these graduating seniors whose financial strains are no longer. There is just one thing that Frank Baker would like in return.
“I expect nothing but excellence from all of them. And once you get there, remember it’s your turn to give back.”
We have no doubt that they will!
You can watch the full Good Morning America interview below!
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