SURPRISE: 2018 graduates of Simmons College brought to tears by $1,000 gifts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a gift to a historically black Louisville college that left many graduates in tears. 

When Cecil "Barney" Barnett took to the stage at Simmons College of Kentucky's commencement on Sunday, the class of 2018 thought his speech would go like all the rest.

"Aw yeah, typical trustee duties," said Richard Hughes, a sociology graduate.

They were wrong.

"Each of you make certain that the mailing address the school has is accurate," Barnett said on Sunday, "because next week, I'm going to send a note to each of you congratulating each of you on graduation -- and we're going to include a check for $1,000 to each one of you."

The crowd broke into applause as the graduates rose to their feet and began jumping up and down with joy. 

"I was totally, totally shocked," said Michael Ivory, a religious studies graduate. 

Barney's gifts amounts to $23,000 to help students of the private HBCU.

Graduate Richard Hughes said that, after the announcement, he felt, "numb at first, but five minutes later after I pinched myself, I was like, 'I'm about to get $1,000!'"  

The gift brought another student to tears. 

"I thought, 'My goodness! How much better can it be?'" Barnett said on Tuesday. 

Barnett founded the Algood Food Company in 1985, making peanut butter and jelly. He says business has been sweet, so he's sweet to others. Fourteen months ago, the Caucasian man became chairman of the board at Louisville's only historically black college. 

"I believe helping young people get an education is a way out, and a way up," Barnett explained.

Simmons recruits students saying they can get a degree and graduate debt-free. Almost every student enrolled at the school is on financial aid and many are the first in their families to go to college. Barnett, a consistent giver to the school, said he doesn't know yet if that $1,000 graduation gift will be a permanent part of the deal. 

Hughes says the gift is more than just money in the bank account, or money to play with. He says that, for him, it's money to move onto grad school at Wake Forest.

"Only at Simmons could you walk out the door with no debt and a $1000 surplus," Hughes said.

Ivory says it will help pay for the LSAT and law school applications. The 47--year old once played football at the University of Louisville but did not graduate.

 "I'm overcome with just complete, complete happiness for someone to think that much of us," Ivory said. " I'm so glad he's been blessed enough to bless us."

Simmons has battled back from near-bankruptcy and now has one of the fastest-growing enrollments at historically black colleges in the country, percentage-wise. About 210 students currently attend the school. 

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