Anyone who has ever gone to college or is getting ready to send their own child to college knows how expensive the cost of higher education is. Between tuition, books, supplies, and residency many students are leaving college with unimaginable debt they are unsure they will ever be able to pay off. Fortunately for the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, they don't need to worry about that. The students of Morehouse College got the graduation gift of a lifetime when commencement speaker Robert Smith announced during his speech that he would be paying off all student debt for the entire 2019 graduating class.
Smith, a technology investor, and philanthropist as well as entrepreneur and businessman, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the school earlier in the commencement ceremony. He is the founder of the investment firm Vista Equity Partners, and according to the New York Times, he is also the richest African American man in the country. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimates Smith's endowment to the school's graduating class of 400 students to be worth approximately $40 million.
During his speech, Mr. Smith spoke to the crowd saying, “On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019,” he said, looking out at the graduating class of almost 400 men. “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
Smith's announcement was met with shock and awe and a lot of celebrating before he told the graduating class that he expects they will pay the goodwill forward. “I know my class will make sure they pay this forward … and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community," he said. "We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.”
The billionaire, whose estimated net worth is $5 billion according to Forbes, was also the first African American "to sign the Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett that encourages the world's wealthiest individuals to commit to dedicating the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes," NPR reports.
Elijah Dormeus was one of the graduating seniors who had almost $90,000 in student-related debt. “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic," he told the Constitution-Journal. Tonga Releford's husband is a Morehouse graduate and their son was a member of the 2019 graduating class. She said her son had almost $70,000 in student loans. “I feel like it’s Mother’s Day all over again,” she said. She also has a son who is currently a junior at Morehouse.
“More than the money we make, the awards, or recognition, or titles we earn, each of us will be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us.”#MorehouseGrad2019 pic.twitter.com/Lmr9zrhh55— Robert F. Smith (@RFS_Vista) May 20, 2019
Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships. The NYT reports that Smith was alarmed by the lack of diversity and science, engineering and technology and decided to use his wealth to do something about it. He had previously donated $50 million to Cornell University, the school where he obtained his Bachelor's degree. The paper notes that Mr. Smith made the donation in part to help women and black students at the school.
Mr. Smith's words of encouragement to pay forward his generous donation has already had an impact on the students of the 2019 graduating class. John Cooper graduated with $98,000 in debt and admitted to the NYT that not having to worry about paying that back has opened up an entirely new set of opportunities for him, as well as the desire to pay it forward. "Not only does this donation help create generational wealth, but it inspires people to give back,” Mr. Cooper said. “The fact that I know somebody who paid off $98,000 of my student loans makes me just want to go out and just give to people even more than I did before.”