Charles Hirschhorn, the president of Otis College of Art and Design announced the immense donation at Sunday evening’s graduation ceremony which took place at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
"We know that for most of you and your families, the shared burden of student debt is a heavy price that you paid for an exceptional Otis College education," Hirschhorn told the Class of 2022. "We understand that this debt can compromise your future and limit your creative ambitions. We do not want to see this happen."He continued, “We are pleased to announce today that Evan and Miranda, through their Spiegel Family Fund, have made the largest single gift in the history of Otis College. Their gift will enable you to pay your student loans.”
Hirschhorn was interrupted by cheering and a standing ovation from students.
Otis spokesperson Lawrence Aldava declined to verify the specific gift amount when asked by TODAY Parents, however he confirmed that Spiegel and Kerr’s donation surpassed the previous largest gift the college has received, which was $10M.
“Making the announcement was really extraordinary,” Hirschhorn tells TODAY Parents. “College students have enough reasons to be pessimistic about their future, whether it is debt, climate change, the pandemic or hate crimes ... so it was unbelievably profound [to see] people react with joy, relief or confusion.”
Hirschhorn says that Spiegel, who took summer classes at Otis as a teen, Kerr and “Queer Eye” star and interior designer Bobby Berk all received honorary doctorate of fine arts degrees.
Spiegel and Kerr did not immediately respond to TODAY Parents’ request for comment, but they said in a press release sent to TODAY Parents by Otis:
“Otis College of Art and Design is an extraordinary institution that encourages young creatives to find their artistic voices 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 graduates to pursue their passions, contribute to the world, and inspire humanity for years to come.”
According to NBC News, President Biden is considering relieving some of the nation’s $1.73 trillion student debt. “The president was incredibly receptive to that. He gave the impression that it’s a priority of his, and he said he understands it’s on young people’s minds,” a congressional aide told NBC. Student loan debt has a “profound” effect on borrowers, says The Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. The organization states that debt can keep people in jobs they dislike or prevent them from buying homes or starting a family, especially among Black or low-income borrowers.
Hirschhorn tells TODAY Parents that 77% of Otis students are people of color and more than 90% carry student loans.
“Everyone is trying to process what’s happening,” says Hirschhorn. “It’s absolutely joyous.”
Yaritza Velazquez-Medina, a graduating senior with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, called the donation "a gift to a new life of possibilities" in comments sent from Otis to TODAY Parents. Velazquez-Medina added that she is now motivated to start her own business, save up for a home and pad her — and her parents' — retirement funds.
In other comments sent by the college, student Farhan Fallahifiroozi, who studied fashion design with a minor in sustainability said: “It’s just the biggest gift I’ve ever gotten.”
Fallahifiroozi said he took out multiple loans that amounted to a “big monthly payment.”
He continued, “This gift just takes that weight off my shoulders and now I can spend that money that I’m making right now and invest it towards my future, and what I actually want to do within the next 5, 10 years. It couldn’t get any better.”