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Snapchat co-founder pays off college debt for LA grads

Yaritza Velazquez-Medina took a major turn in her career when she decided to quit her job as a crisis counselor in 2018 to pursue her artistic passions. She enrolled at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles to become a graphic designer — even though she racked up around $70,000 in college debt to do so.

But after crossing the stage on Sunday to receive her diploma during the opening ceremonies, she and 284 other graduates from the Class of 2022 received startling news: their college debt would be fully repaid thanks to the largest donation in the century-old history of school through Snapchat. co-founder Evan Spiegel and his wife, Miranda Kerr, founder of beauty company Kora.

Charles Hirschhorn, chairman of Otis, made the announcement during the opening ceremony at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, prompting gasps and cheers from the audience. Some graduates hugged, cried and jumped for joy.

“I’m speechless,” Velazquez-Medina said, tears streaming from her eyes.

Spiegel – whose creation of the popular instant messaging app with two former Stanford University classmates made him the world’s youngest billionaire in 2015 – took summer school at Otis in high school.

“It changed my life and made me feel at home,” Spiegel told the promotion. “I felt pushed and challenged growing up surrounded by super talented artists and designers, and we were all in this together.”

Spiegel and Kerr are the founders of the Spiegel Family Fund. They said in a statement that the college is “an extraordinary institution that encourages young creatives to find their artistic voice and thrive in a variety of industries and careers.

“It is a privilege for our family to give back and support the Class of 2022, and we hope this gift will empower the graduates to pursue their passions, contribute to the world, and inspire humanity for years to come. “

The donation comes as student loan debt has soared in recent decades, due to rising costs of college education and dwindling public funding to cover them. More than 43 million Americans owe the federal government $1.6 trillion — an average of $37,000 per person — which is the largest share of consumer debt in the United States after mortgages.

In California alone, 3.8 million residents owe $141.8 billion, the largest share of any state. Those who struggle the most with crippling debt are disproportionately low-income and underrepresented minority students and the first members of their families to attend college.

The financial burden hurts mental health, delays marriages, prevents homeownership and discourages new businesses, researchers have found. Widespread effects intensify pressure on Biden administration to craft student debt relief plan; one proposal under consideration is the federal cancellation of at least $10,000 of debt for people earning less than $125,000 a year.

The crisis has also prompted some donors to pay off student loan debt. In 2019, billionaire Robert Smith made national headlines when he announced he would cover the loan debt of the entire Morehouse College class by donating $34 million to the historically men’s school. black from Atlanta.

Hirschhorn did not reveal the size of the Spiegel family donation, but said it exceeded the college’s previous largest donation of $10 million. Spiegel and Kerr offered their historic gift after Hirschhorn told them the college wanted to award the couple honorary degrees and invited them this year as rookie speakers. The couple was not available for an interview.

“My reaction was euphoria,” Hirschhorn said. “Student debt weighs heavily on our diverse and talented graduates. We hope this donation will bring them much-needed relief and allow them to pursue their aspirations and careers, further this generosity, and become the next leaders of our community.

The private, nonprofit college, established in 1918 as the first professional art school in Los Angeles, educates about 1,200 students – 77% identifying as non-white and 30% as the first in their families to attend the ‘university. Diversity enriches the school’s creative output, with student creations featuring Black, Japanese, Persian, Mexican American and other cultural inspirations.

Annual tuition is $49,110 for 2022-23, and 92% of students receive financial aid. The median total federal debt after graduation is $27,000, according to the US Department of Education.

Hirschhorn said 90% of graduates find employment in their field of study within six months of graduation and earn an average entry salary of around $50,000. The college offers programs in communication arts, digital media, environmental design, fashion design, fine arts, product design, and toy design. According to its annual report on California’s creative economy, the sectors directly employed nearly 1.4 million people and produced $687 billion in gross regional product in 2020, nearly a quarter of California’s output. State.

Farhan Fallahifiroozi graduate couldn’t believe the news on Sunday that his student debt had been paid off.

“All that, really? he asked, still trying to absorb the shock.

Fallahifiroozi emigrated with his family from Iran in 2015 to find better opportunities that he said were not available to them as members of the Baha’i minority. They landed in Texas, where he discovered a passion for fashion design in high school and took out over $60,000 in student loans to fund his four-year program at Otis.

The family flew in for his graduation. “My mother was crying,” he said. “They were so worried about me.”

“I had so much debt. If it’s all really gone, it gives me so much head start.

Even without the gift, he said the investment was worth it. He found rigorous academic programs, caring mentors and industry connections – an internship at Abercrombie and Fitch, for example, and work on school projects with mentor Trish Summerville, the costume designer known for her Hollywood work on “Mank”, “The Hunger Games: Catching”. Fire” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. He accepted a job offer in his main area of ​​interest, bridal design.

For Velazquez-Medina, the Spiegel family’s donation is a lifeline. Her $70,000 student loan debt isn’t something her working-class parents, who emigrated from Mexico, could help pay off, but she saw it as a worthwhile investment for herself and her passion for giving a creative voice to marginalized communities through design. Her school projects include a visual book on Spanglish and creative women. She lined up a paid internship with the libertine fashion brand in Hollywood.

“I’m so grateful and so happy,” she said of the gift. She and her friends talked about what the future holds.

“For many of us, because of the pandemic, it’s hard to find a job,” she said. “It’s such a relief. It’s a weight on your shoulders.

Hope Mackey, who grew up in Las Vegas, always loved art – “I was that person who doodled in notebooks during math class,” they said. Mackey fell in love with Otis after visiting the school’s toy design floor during a college tour of California, but was nervous about the financial prospects of a career in the field, especially with the debt five-figure student loan amount needed to complete the program.

“I immediately burst into tears,” Mackey said upon hearing the news on Sunday. “It’s crazy. I can’t believe this is actually happening.

Now free of student debt, Mackey is excited to start a job at Mattel Inc. The graduate, who identifies as queer/trans, will work in the Barbie family division and dreams of developing non-binary dolls.

“I want every child to feel represented,” Mackey said.

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds