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NSU grad describes 'life-changing moment' Pharrell Williams paid off her student loans

Jamie Turner graduated from Norfolk State University in 2020 as a political-science major with thousands of dollars in debt. Now, she has that heavy burden lifted.

NORFOLK, Va. — A moment is all it takes to turn your life around and for Norfolk State University graduate Jamie Turner, her moment was when Pharrell Williams announced he paid off her student loans.

"It was like a life-changing moment," said Turner. "If you could've seen me on that stage, I was frozen!"

The Virginia Beach native and Grammy award-winning artist announced he paid off all student loan debt for five Historically Black College and University graduates earlier this summer during a panel discussion with "Something in the Water."

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Turner said thanks to Williams, she now doesn't have to pay off $27,000 in debt from her student loans. She said it feels like a big weight lifted off her shoulders. 

"Since my student loans, I was like okay, I can move out of the house!" said Turner.

But a sense of independence is not all this 24-year-old go-getter is after in her life.

Turner worked as NSU's NAACP chapter president and got involved in several different student organizations. She even teamed up with Virginia's NAACP chapter to work as a student representative to get more students involved.

She said it was worth the hard work since she now works for a nonprofit she loves in Washington D.C. 

However, these opportunities didn't come without their challenges. 

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One of the first on her mother's side to go to college, Turner said she understands the pressure to get a degree, especially since research shows Black families on average have more loans to pay off than white families.

"I don't think anyone should have to take out significant amount of loans just to go to a university, especially when that many Black families have all that student debt, because a lot of Black students are first-generation college students, so they're going into it blind, like completely blind," said Turner.

For many like Turner, that money adds up over time, which is why she says moments like the one she had with Pharrell Williams create a ripple effect.

"Seeing these numbers, it's just kind of like, take out the debt or not go to school, but especially if you come from a low-income family and you're first generation, you see your college degree as your ticket out," Turner explained. 

Turner said she can take this moment to explore new opportunities, like law school, and leave the weight of student loan debt behind her. 

"Now that I don't have any debt, and especially because I'm now an adult, I have a bit more resources, a bit more connections," said Turner. "So, I'm hoping I can go to law school for completely free, so I don't have to go into debt ever again!"

Turner said she's not sure which type of law she wants to study, but she mentioned she is a big advocate for environmental protection in Virginia.

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