Graduates of Morehouse College received the gift of a lifetime at their commencement ceremony on Sunday morning. According to CNN, philanthropist and billionaire Robert F. Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt for the entire 2019 graduating class.
The historically Black college awarded Smith with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for being a trailblazer in the realm of business. The entrepreneur and investor—who founded and leads the venture capital firm Vista Equity Partners—has invested in the progression of Morehouse. In January, he donated $1.5 million to the school for the creation of a scholarship fund and the addition of an outdoor study area on campus.
Unbeknownst to students and faculty, Smith planned on topping that generous donation by giving graduates the gift of being student loan debt free through the establishment of a new a grant. “On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” he said during his speech. “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.”
There were 400 seniors that were a part of the graduating class and Smith’s gift is estimated to be $40 million. The graduates were overjoyed and many of them were in disbelief. Morehouse President David A. Thomas says that the erasure of debt will be a key factor in helping the graduates thrive. Student loan debt has continued to rise within our country. According to Forbes, there is currently $1.5 trillion owed.
Paying it forward is nothing new to Smith. He was the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s largest private donor and has been an advocate for education and combating global poverty.