The Gift of a Future: HSU seniors’ debt completely cleared before graduation

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Hardin-Simmons University senior Robert Skylar Walker was awarded a surprise grant at HSU’s annual National Day of Prayer Breakfast that completely cleared their student debt.

Robert Walker, or Skylar as they prefer, was handed a situation in life that would break most. Skylar had lost their brother at the age of 14 and his mother at the age of 16.

“I had just lost my mom, so I just ran away from home. I was not in a good head space. Very distraught. I was suicidal and… I didn’t want to be a burden,” said Walker.

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After bouncing around to different relatives’ homes, Skylar eventually came under the care of the Our House program, which is designed to help teens and young adults get back on their feet.

After spending some time at Our House, they were able to apply for college and got accepted into Hardin-Simmons University, where they were able to utilize university housing.

“At first, my plan wasn’t to go to college,” said Walker, but quickly became a known face on campus when, in their freshman year, they gave the opening prayer for 2019’s National Day of Prayer Breakfast.

It was then that they first caught the eye of the President of the FirstDay Foundation, Kevin Dinnin, who made sure to remember Skylar. That brief interaction eventually led to this year’s National Day of Prayer Breakfast, where Dinnin returned to give the closing prayer for the event but had an alternative objective.

Dinnin had been following Skylar’s progress throughout their college career, noting their hard work and involvement on campus throughout their time, and decided to gift Skylar with a surprise grant to pay for all of their college debt.

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Walker currently works for Aramark, a catering service that HSU employees, and was present working the breakfast without any knowledge of what Dinnin was about to offer.

When Dinnin called for Walker to recognize them, Dinnin surprised not only Walker but the entire crowd when he asked Skylar, “Do you have any student debt?” Skylar replied with a modest “Yes”. President Dinnin’s response was only, “Well, you don’t anymore.”

In an emotional moment, Skylar became overcome with emotion and hugged President Dinnin.

“It was like a Godly feeling. I felt God in that moment, and I felt very loved, and I felt like I’ve been working for this,” said Skylar.

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Mark Young is the Regional Director of BCFS Health and Human Services, which regularly collaborates with the FirstDay Foundation.

“We not only covered what he owed Hardin-Simmons, which had been mostly housing and food costs and so forth, possibly books, but we also made sure that we cleared all of the debt that he had from any private loans that he had taken out to complete his college career,” Young shared.

After receiving this grant, Skylar said that they feel this gift has given them a new outlook on the future.

“I’ve been striving to become a better person in my personal life, and I feel like I’m finally seeing that come out. This new happiness I have has come out, and I have just been so happy; I’ve been so happy, honestly!” said Walker.

Skylar graduates from HSU in just two weeks and said they plan on pursuing a career in social work and for the advocacy of the LGBTQ+ community.

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