Graduates of the class of 2019 at Morehouse College got the surprise of a lifetime when their commencement speaker announced that he would pay off student loans for the entire graduating class. Billionaire Robert F. Smith received an honorary degree at the graduation ceremony on May 19, and during his speech, he made his stunning pledge.
“This is my class, 2019,” he said. “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
Check out his entire speech in this video posted to the college’s YouTube channel:
The historic gift is estimated to be about $400 million, based on the combined debt of the nearly 400 graduates who will benefit. It represents the single largest individual donation to a historically black college or university.
Smith founded private equity firm Vista Equity Partners nearly 20 years ago. He is estimated to be worth about $5 billion. In addition to his business success, Smith is well-known for his philanthropy. He is the first black American to sign the Giving Pledge, an initiative created by fellow billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett that encourages the ultra-wealthy to commit to giving away more than half of their fortunes to charity.
“Just imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders when you have a clean slate coming out of college,” Dwytt Lewis, a member of the 2019 Morehouse Colledge graduating class with a degree in business administration, told CBS News.
Lewis owed more than $150,000 in student loans.
As student loan debt continues to rise, more and more colleges and universities are opting to eliminate debt altogether.
“When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained,” said Morehouse President David A. Thomas. “(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”
Congratulations to the graduates on both their achievement and the wonderful gift they received!