LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Students graduating from Philander Smith College this weekend got more than just a diploma when they walked across the stage. 

The graduating classes of 2021 and 2020 are celebrating the surprise of a lifetime.

On Saturday, during their graduation ceremony in Little Rock, Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers broke the news to all graduating seniors with debt.

“All your balances have been cleared and paid,” Smothers said. “Thanks to the wonderful generosity of the Jack and Jill foundation, our friends and alumnus and others who support us, we were able to pull together those funds.”

Some of the students are still in shock Tuesday.

“I was really not expecting that and I know the uproar of the students they were very surprised,” Business administration graduate, Leah Collins said.

The crowd could be hear roaring loud cheers following the announcement. 

“My dad was at the graduation and once he heard the news, I actually saw him almost jump out of the building, because he was just excited as I was,” Biology Major graduate, Alan Pattin said. 

The college said nearly 90 percent of the student body had a balance, but this helps lift a weight off of these college graduates, especially during a ongoing pandemic.

“It does help us out with us graduating and taking our next step,” Pattin said. “Taking that big stress off of us.”

“It was important to help our students make a seamless transition from completing their undergraduate degrees and moving into the world of work,” Smothers said. 

Smothers said this is just one of the examples of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) pride.

“That’s the beauty of the HBCU experience, is that we have amazing alumni who go out and make a difference,” Smothers said. “And one of the requirements that we have for our alumni is that they never forget the institution and the students who come behind them.”

“I was really excited when I did walk across the stage and then seeing that we did get our diploma the same day was just crazy,” Pattin said.

The students who we spoke to said they hope to pay it forward and help out some graduating seniors in the future.