Cayla Chandara is a waitress in Waikiki Beach, just outside of Honolulu, Hawaii, and this week she got the tip of a lifetime.
Chandara was waiting on an Australian couple at Noi Thai Restaurant and, according to Fox KTVU 2, she and the couple "hit it off" and "chatted quite a bit."
"They asked where I was from," Chandara said, "and I told them I moved here for school but I was kind of in a little bit of debt and I couldn’t go back to school, because I couldn’t afford it — and the cost of living here."
Chandara was working two shifts, one at Noi Thai and one at the local Cheesecake Factory, to make ends meet and try to make a dent in her student loans. It was only after the couple had paid their check and left that she noticed that they'd given her a $400 tip — 200 percent on a $200 bill. Chandara wanted to thank them, remembering that they'd told her where they were staying. After delivering a thank-you note and flowers, the waitress thought the encounter was over. But the $400 tip was just the tip of the iceberg.
The next day, the couple returned to the restaurant and offered to help Chandara pay off her student loan debt — roughly $10,000. While the couple asked to remain anonymous, they told Chandara to simply thank them by being her best self going forward.
Chandara's story reveals something important about student loan debt.
While Chandara's story may be heartwarming, it's important to remember that most student loan debt doesn't get paid off by anonymous benefactors. The U.S. currently faces a $1.2 trillion student loan debt crisis, with the average borrower $30,000 in debt. Experts say the massive amount of debt held by U.S. graduates is an anchor on the economy and, according to Vox, "about 30 percent of the $1.2 trillion is in deferment, forbearance or default."
During the presidential campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called for heavily reducing the burden of student debt on graduates, and making public college tuition-free. Massachussetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been another vocal proponent of a student loan overhaul, calling the system "morally wrong."
For his part, President Donald Trump "criticized the profiteering of the federal government on the student loan program," according to The Hill, remarking in an interview during the campaign that education is "probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off — I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans."
Nonetheless, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era protections for borrowers. For now, those deep in debt will have to keep hoping for a miracle tip, if not a change in policy.