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Billionaire Speaks at Morehouse Graduation, Shocks Everyone with Promise to Pay Off Student Debt

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Over the weekend, billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith gave the commencement address at Morehouse College, promising to pay off the classes student debt.


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Lindsay Elizabeth

Over the weekend, billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith gave the commencement address at Morehouse College, a historically black and men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Smith talked about the history of the college, explore the possibilities to come for the graduating class, and ended by eliminating the student debt for the class of 2019.

In a surprise announcement, Smith shared with the graduates that his family would be paying off the student debt for the entire class of 2019.

Smith is the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a technology investment firm, and a former chemical engineer and investment banker.

In 2017, he was named one of Forbes magazine’s 100 “greatest living business minds,” and later in 2018, he topped Oprah to be named by Forbes as “The Nation’s Wealthiest African-American.”

Not only did the class of 2019 at Morehouse graduate this past weekend, but Smith was given an honorary doctorate as well.

“This is my class, 2019,” he said at the end of his commencement address. “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

“I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” he said. “And 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.”

José Mallabo, the CMO at Morehouse College, shared a video that detailed the reaction of the student body after Smith made his debt announcement, in which you can see the excitement in the crowd.

Another Twitter user, Mallory Dirks, shared a screenshot of one of the student’s reactions, that was more common than not amongst the graduates.

Social media exploded within minutes, news of the generous donation traveling fast.

Not everyone was happy about Smith’s generous donation, including democrat representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s important to note that people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with (aka college should be affordable),” she wrote, “but it is an incredible act of community investment in this system as it is.”

The bigger picture

Federal Reserve data states that Americans currently owe $1.5 trillion in student loans. Outstanding students loans exceeds auto loan debt at $1.1 trillion, as well as credit card debt at $977 billion.

One Twitter user, Teryl Ann Rosch, tweeted that Smith’s form of generosity was a new form of investment belief.

“While a powerful form of influence is generosity, this was more than that,” she wrote. “It represents a new donor ‘investment belief’ approach linking societal interests with HBCU Mission.”

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“Belief drives positive action! Imagine the hopeful ripple effect & future contributions of these grads!”

Graduating college is a feat of its own, but being able to graduate without any student debt is an incredible blessing from Smith to the graduates at Morehouse.

For the 400 Morehouse graduates, they will be able to avoid the stress and anxiety that comes with borrowing large amounts of money in order to graduate college.