Robert F. Smith’s recent generosity to graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta is having ripple effects.
Gwinnett County Public Schools District IV board member Everton Blair Jr. announced to a crowd of Shiloh High School graduates Wednesday night at Infinite Energy Arena that he would pay for graduates’ outstanding balances on their student accounts, thus permitting them to receive their diplomas immediately.
Blair, a graduate of Shiloh High School 10 years ago, said current estimations of the fees owed by Shiloh students are between $11,000 and $13,000.
“I was trying to think, what special could we do to help the school get a sense of pride?” Blair said Thursday. “I realized that thing could be to nondescriptly erase the student debt.”
While graduates are permitted to walk dressed in their traditional caps and gowns during commencement ceremonies, they don’t actually receive their official diplomas. Those are available for students to receive separately from commencement ceremonies and are typically held until all of a student’s account balances are paid.
The debts can include lunch, media center and textbook fees owed to the high school. While an unpaid student account balance doesn’t prevent a student from graduating, it does prevent them from obtaining their diploma.
“When I heard it, I was ecstatic, and I’m not sure the parents and students completely understood what was happening,” Shiloh principal Danyel Dollard said of Blair’s offer.
As it resonated after the ceremony, Blair and his family’s generosity has excited the Shiloh community, Dollard said. She and Blair, in the near future, will begin to hash out what the process of what his paying for the student debt will look like. The funds for Blair’s promise, he said, are channeled from the scholarship fund his family started in memory of his sister, Courtney Blair.
Courtney Blair was a Harvard student who died suddenly last summer before Everton Blair’s election was official. She would have graduated with a degree from Harvard this year. The scholarship fund, partnered with GCPS Foundation, supplies three scholarships that are granted to Gwinnett County students in three categories: the Courtney S. Blair Women in Business Scholarship, Outstanding Excellence in Athletics and Academics Scholarship and Student Leadership Scholarship.
Blair was present for Shiloh High School’s Class of 2009’s 10-year reunion last weekend. The class of 2009 collectively made a donation as a gift for the school, though that gift has not been settled on yet, he said.
Blair, however, had been independently thinking of a way to give back and decided to announce it at Shiloh’s commencement on Wednesday night. The salutatorian and president of the Shiloh class of 2009 has vivid memories of his own commencement ceremony where he sort of played M.C. and introduced the school’s bevy of special guests at the ceremony.
“I remember being up on stage, and it was supposed to be two times, but it was like seven,” he said.
Blair, elected to his current school board seat in November 2018, said the intersection of several circumstances made Wednesday night’s commencement unique. The Shiloh grad found himself in the same place he was standing 10 years ago, and it happened to be the first commencement he spoke at as the representative of GCPS’ District IV.
“I’m just really proud of the class,” Blair said. “I love the Shiloh community. It led me to understand and appreciate what we have, and I’ve been honored to come back and serve as a board member in the community. I’m blessed to be in a position to do this.”
Blair is the youngest person to be elected to GCPS Board of Education.