Billionaire Robert Smith Will Pay The Student Loans For An Entire College Class

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At today’s (May 19) graduation keynote address, 56-year-old billionaire Robert Frederick Smith made a monumental pledge to the 2019 Morehouse University grads in Atlanta, Georgia. The CEO of the San Francisco, California-based Vista Equity Partners told approximately 396 students at the historically Black, all-male college that he wanted to provide a helping hand in their transition to the workforce.

“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,” Smith said in a surprise announcement during his commencement speech this afternoon. “My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.” The proclamation was met with a standing ovation, cheers, and chants from the elated graduates and their families on hand.

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Notably, Smith challenged those in attendance to follow in his footsteps. “This is my class: 2019,” he said, addressing a seated section of Morehouse alums. “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” Smith proclaimed from the podium. “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.” In an Associated Press report, the cost of Smith’s pledge is estimated to be $40 million. According to Morehouse President David Anthony Thomas, the average debt a Morehouse student carries after graduation is $30,000.

While Robert Smith received an honorary degree from the Atlanta university, he previously holds degrees from Cornell University and Columbia Business School, both Ivy League institutions. “This is your moment, graduates. Between doubt and destiny is action. Between our community and the American dream is leadership. That’s your leadership. That’s your destiny. This doesn’t mean ignoring injustice. It means using your strength to right order,” Smith said during his speech. “True wealth comes from contributing to the liberation of people and the liberation of communities we come from depends upon grit and determination, and the greatness inside of you.”

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One month ago, a Wall Street Journal report by Josh Mitchell and Biography Andrea Fuller examined how Historically Black College & University grads have been some of the hardest hit by the student debt epidemic. That report pointed to a 33% increase in the principal of loans families take out for students as compared to 2000-2001. The findings all said that in the first few years after graduation, many HBCU grads are only paying down the interest on these academic loans.

Earlier this year, Smith donated $1.5 million for a park at the school, as well as a scholarship program in his name.

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A 2018 Forbes estimate reports Smith’s net wealth to be approximately $4.4 billion, making him one of the richest Americans.