A group of college students and graduates were given a life-changing surprise this month when they learned that anonymous donors were paying off their entire student loan debt.
The students received the news on a Zoom call due to the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented them from being together in person.
The anonymous donors donated approximately $8 million to help pay off the student loans of as many as 400 college students.
"My mind was spinning, trying to process what a non-debt life was," said Zachary Tabb, a 35-year-old pediatric resident at Texas's Baylor College of Medicine, and one of the students whose debt will be paid. "Basically I’ve carried around some form of educational debt my entire adult life.... To all of a sudden hear, ‘Well, you don’t have to do that anymore,' it’s like, 'What? Say that again to me.’"
"Having this much debt and such a huge proportion of my paycheck going to pay off this debt, you have to think of even the smallest purchases," he added. "If I get coffee because I’m a tired, working resident physician, there’s some tingle in the back of my mind about how that is money away from the debt that I could be paying, and then you start spinning and extrapolating."
Tabb said the donation means for him that he will have over $100,000 of student debt erased. It also means he will now be able to pursue his passion of working internationally in global health.
"Certainly in thinking about the positions and the roles that I could work internationally, having a large, substantial debt in a role that pays very little has a massive influence on the options I can entertain," he said. "Now that I don’t have that, it really broadens the scope at which I can look at those opportunities."
Tabb and the other students whose debts will be paid are all alumni of Students Rising Above (SRA), a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that supports low-income, and often first-generation, college students.
Tabb was introduced to the organization as a high school senior who had no plans to attend college. SRA gave him a fellowship that allowed him to attend college, thereby changing the "whole trajectory" of his life.
"This [$8 million student loan donation] in its scale is so emblematic of the work they’ve been doing for decades now," Tabb said of SRA. "It’s just humbling to be part of this history and legacy of the work that they do. I just know that this is going to have such a huge impact on so many lives."
The students who qualified for the debt payment must have graduated or be scheduled to graduate from college by Jan. 31, 2021, according to SRA.
"With the current [coronavirus] pandemic crisis, there are even greater concerns and fears regarding the financial responsibilities these students often must deal with including the care of other family members and dependents," Elizabeth Devaney, SRA's chief executive officer, told "GMA." "Many students have lost housing or are uncertain about what comes next, with so many schools shutting down. So not only does this provide much-needed relief but we will continue to help them navigate an already complex landscape and deal with these challenges confidently."
"It was a life-changing moment for everyone in our SRA family that I will never forget," she said of the surprise announcement.