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2021 Spelman College Commencement

Source: Paras Griffin / Getty

Spelman College is celebrating this week after receiving the largest donation an HBCU has ever received. Billionaire philanthropists Ronda Stryker and her husband William Johnston donated the money to the school last week.

“I have seen first-hand the enormous impact financial investment has generated for Spelman’s highly talented students,” Stryker said in a statement to NBC News. “It’s important to me that all women be provided an opportunity to explore their talents, challenge their self-doubts, and realize the power of achieving individual success.”

Stryker, a University of Northern Colorado graduate, is on the Harvard Medical School board of fellows and is a member of Harvard’s board of trustees. She is also on Spelman’s board of trustees and previously donated $30M to the school. Her grandfather founded the Stryker medical device company. Her husband is the founder of the Greenleaf Trust.

In a statement, Spelman said that three-quarters of the money will go to endowed scholarships, and the rest will go towards upgrading student housing and further developing the school as a center for public policy and democracy.

“We are invigorated and inspired by this incredible act of generosity,” Spelman’s president, Dr. Helene Gayle, said. “This gift is a critical step in our school’s mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education.”

Spelman has approximately 2,400 students and one of the largest HBCU endowments at $570M. (By contrast, Smith College in Massachusetts, one of the oldest predominantly white women’s colleges in the U.S., similar to Spelman, has an endowment of $2.5B.)

Spelman celebrates the 100th anniversary of its official naming this year. The nation’s preeminent institution of higher education for Black women has been supported by philanthropists in the past.

Last year, Rosemary K. Brown and John W. Brown provided a $10 million donation to build the 84,000-square-foot Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., Center for Innovation & the Arts, which is scheduled to open later this year.

And as has been seen with Mackenzie Scott’s $560M investment in HBCUs, one big donation often inspires others. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120M in total to be divided across the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse.

In related news, the United Negro College Fund announced an unrestricted $100M donation from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to 35 UNCF member schools.

“They’re trusting the judgment of the United Negro College Fund to decide where best to deploy this very significant and sizable gift,” Michael Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF, said to the Associated Press. “We don’t get a lot of gifts like that.”