Most graduation speakers are entirely forgettable. Occasionally, a celebrity makes headlines, but for the most part graduation speakers are politicians or local alum that give the standard “today is the first day of the rest of your lives” speech. But Billionaire Robert Smith delivered a speech at Morehouse College’s graduation that his audience will never forget: he promised to pay off all of their student loans.
In the middle of his speech, Smith announced:
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. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.
Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward. I want my class to look at these (alumni) — these beautiful Morehouse brothers — and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.
This generous graduation present has been estimated at up to $40 million. Smith had previously pledged $1.5 million in scholarship money to the school. He also donated $20 million to the African American Museum. He earned a chemical engineering from Cornell University, and his master of business administration degree from Columbia Business School. He is the
is the third richest American and the nation’s richest black man. He founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, which currently manages equity capital commitments of more than $46 billion.
The graduates were thrilled with their good fortune. Elijah Dormeus, a business administration major, said, “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.” Smith just agreed to pay off the $90,000 in student debt he accumulated at Morehouse. Finance major Deionte Jones said“It was a sense of a new start on life. It can be challenging to be an African American in this society because we sometimes don’t come from strong economic backgrounds. This lifts a huge weight off my family’s back.”
It is impossible to estimate the boost this act of generosity has given to these graduates. Without it, they faced years of struggling to pay off their student loan debt. Now, these young men can work towards building careers, starting businesses and leading their communities instead of paying of debt.
Thank you to Robert Smith on behalf of Morehouse College and the city of Atlanta. We’d love to see more business leaders follow his lead.