ASU Seniors Receive Help to ‘Cross the Finish Line’
By Hazel Scott/ASU
Nearly 50 Alabama State University seniors received the surprise of a lifetime on Thursday, April 29, when they heard the words “paid in full!”
The soon-to-be graduates, who thought they would not be able to walk across the commencement stage on May 7 because of financial challenges, were ecstatic to learn in a surprise reveal that the entirety of their balances to the University was cleared.
The balance payments were made possible by the University’s Department of Development fundraising initiative that encouraged alumni and supporters to help potential graduates “Cross the Finish Line.”
The effort raised more than $16,000 with additional funding support from the Regions Foundation of a $250,000 grant for student aid. Organizers say the Regions Foundation grant will not only help 2021 graduates, it will also provide support for next year’s graduating seniors.
“We are extremely grateful to the Regions Foundation and to our alumni who met the challenge to help these deserving ASU students,” said Jennifer Anderson, Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations/Executive Director of the ASU Foundation.
The Big Reveal
To keep the “Big Reveal” a secret, the event was disguised as a financial education course required to help students find ways to pay their debts and manage their money.
Robert Birmingham, Montgomery market executive for Regions Bank, was the speaker for the veiled event.
The unsuspecting students, some of whom joined by Zoom, were stunned when ASU alumni, Regions Foundation representatives and President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., dropped a bombshell -- the erasure of their spring 2021 remaining balance with the University.
It seemed to take a moment for the enormity of what they were told to sink in. Then the crowd erupted into energetic applause, some in tears.
Two other Regions representatives, Lajuana Bradford and Angela McKenzie, joined Birmingham in presenting the $250,000 check to Alabama State University to support students and help address their financial needs.
“Regions Bank has proudly supported Alabama State University for many years. Through our work with HBCU’s across the communities we serve, we’ve been part of the many celebrations and events at ASU over the years. We see ourselves as true community partners and investors in ASU students, faculty and alumni,” said Birmingham. “We are proud to be a longtime supporter of Alabama State. And, we are proud to stand together to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students here today and those who follow behind them.”
Ross said the Regions Foundation’s donation shows its continued commitment to help the University “Stay Hornet Strong.”
“First, before I start, ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,’” Ross asked the students, who readily responded. “ASU’s mission was to reduce students’ financial stress and to help clear the final hurdle before graduating. I want to thank Mr. Birmingham for helping us to make this such a remarkable day for these deserving students who have benefitted from the generosity of the Regions Foundation and that of the ASU alumni who participated in the ‘Cross the Finish Line’ campaign.”
The average balance of ASU’s spring 2021 graduates is $2,500. Erasing those balances cleared the way for them to walk with their classmates.
Students See a Brighter Future
Prior to the disguised event, five students were being interviewed for a marketing video when they were interrupted by d a surprise visit from the Alumni/Regions “Prize Patrol” to let them know that their school balances were cleared. All broke down in tears.
Misty Davis, whose family had not been able to provide her with much support throughout her journey, was shocked but joyous when she heard the news. She and the rest of the awardees had been told that they were semi-finalists to receive aid.
“I didn’t expect to cry; it was a little embarrassing, but I did. I expected to go home and nervously wait for the decision from the University about my debt. So, for them to surprise me with the announcement that my $1,000 debt was paid off was emotional. I feel blessed,” said the 26-year-old Davis.
Davis, who had to overcome many personal struggles in her journey, will now enter the University of Maryland to pursue a Master of Social Work degree this fall.
“My concentration at Maryland will be clinical in mental health for children and families,” Davis said. “Aside from that, I want to be a doula for black and brown women.”
She gave a special shout-out to the University.
“I’m very thankful to the University. I know I got on some people’s nerves because I wouldn’t let up with the emails and the calls. This surprise moved the needle from not graduating to graduating,” she said. “I can’t wait to march on May 7. I also want to thank everybody who was involved, including my instructors for pushing and encouraging me.”
Brandon Colvin, a father of two, was grappling with the realization that he wouldn’t graduate because of unpaid balances. Then he heard the “amazing” announcement his balance being cleared.
“I’m very happy,” said a teary-eyed Colvin. “Life can have hiccups. It’s been a struggle. But knowing that I have the ability now to obtain this degree that I worked so hard for is like a breath of fresh air. I never would have thought that people cared about you and wanted to give back. This year! My God!”
With a cleared debt of $3,999, the 26-year-old is looking to the future.
“I plan to continue to work and take care of my family and continue to be a good citizen. But not only that, I’m going to be the alumnus that shows up for everything at ASU. I don’t care if it’s a bake sale. I’ll be there. This institution cares about its students…It is my helping hands; someone who believed in me and my future. Again, I’d like to thank ASU, Regions, ASU alums and everybody who had a part in this event. Without it, I don’t know where I would be in respect to graduation.” Colvin added.
Colvin, who started at ASU in 2013, has words of wisdom for students. “Don’t ever give up. If you are a student and (you later) have a kid, PLEASE send them to Alabama State University. Don’t send them any place else. They will get the proper training, the proper tutelage and especially the compassion that they need,” Colvin said.
A school balance of $2,268 was keeping Jye’Terrika Hooks from walking across the stage on May 7, but she said today’s announcement was a game changer.
“I was speechless. It was emotional and I cried on camera,” the 25-year-old said. “I want to tell the world that I’m graduating.”
Hooks said students should consider attending an HBCU, especially Alabama State University.
“I know people like to say a lot of things about HBCUs — there’s no funding, no help — but HBCUs provide a stable and nurturing environment and are more important than ever.”
Her plans now are to study physical therapy and join the Air Force once she graduates.
“I’d like to thank my mom for the time she was here, my grandmother, my little sister who actually paid my graduation application fee, and I’d like to thank ASU, Regions and ASU alums for this awesome, awesome gift,” Hooks said.
Sisters Candance and Carmen Knight, who will now graduate together, said their stress level has lowered considerably now that they know they will graduate on time.
“We both cried,” said Candace, who just turned 23. “Knowing how hard I’ve been working this past year with my job and with school and trying to make sure everything was ready for graduation — paying rent, trying to help my mom and dad when I could, as well as save up for tuition — knowing that my debt was taken care of was a like a heavy lift taken off my shoulders.”
Her 21-year-old sister Carmen agreed. “We were so stressed out (about) how we were going to pay off these balances to graduate,” Carmen said. “But when I found out it was being paid off, I couldn’t help but cry and I’m not a crier.”
Now, the sisters are planning for their future.
“I plan to apply to graduate school now that I know I have a clean slate and don’t have to worry about paying back this debt,” Candace said.
For Carmen, law school has always been on her mind. “The financial aspect was a hindrance but now that I know I don’t owe ASU anything, I can start clean and go to law school,” Carmen said.
Both sisters, who are honor students, said their debts totaled more than $2,500.
“From the bottom of our hearts, we are so, so very grateful to Alabama State, ASU alums and the Regions Foundation for this blessing,” the sisters said. “We plan to go forward and honor ASU in all that we do.”
Dr. Ross encouraged the seniors to remember this day as a shining example of the difference that they can one day make in the lives of those who will follow in their footsteps.
“We know we can count on all of you to continue this spirit of paying it forward once you walk across the stage with your degree on May 7,” Ross said. “I’m truly proud of each of you and I know that you will go on to do great things in the name of O’ Mother Dear.”