Morehouse College’s Class of 2019 received an extraordinary surprise on Sunday morning that will positively affect their future.
During graduation exercises at the all-male historically Black college located in Atlanta, billionaire technology investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, who received an honorary doctorate, told the almost 400 graduates that he’s going to pay off their student loans.
“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans!” -Robert F. Smith told the graduating Class of 2019 @RFS_Vista #MorehouseGrad2019 pic.twitter.com/etG8JhVA46
— Morehouse College (@Morehouse) May 19, 2019
Smith had previously announced a $1.5 million gift to the school, but the additional pledge to eliminate the student loan debt of graduates is estimated to be $40 million, according to 11Alive.
“You cannot be a witness to history, as I have, or walked the halls of Morehouse, as you have, without profound respect for the unsung everyday heroes who generation after generation, little by little, nudged, shoved and ultimately built that arc of the moral universe closer to justice,” Smith said during his speech, which was live-streamed on Facebook.
“This is the history and the heritage you inherit. This responsibility now lies upon your broad shoulders. True wealth comes from contributing to the liberation of people.
“And the liberation of communities we come from depends upon the grit, and the determination and the greatness inside of you. Using your skills and your knowledge and your instincts to serve and change the world in only the way that you can.
“You great Morehouse men are only bound by the limits of your own conviction and creativity. You have the power within to be great. Be you. Be unstoppable. Be undeniable. And accomplish some things that people never thought you would. I’m counting on you to load up your bus, and share that journey.”
Smith, who founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, then announced his donation.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that has been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he explained.
“This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
The students cheered.
“I know my class will make sure they pay this forward…and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community.”
Not only are the Class of 2019 grads excited by the news, but so are Morehouse alumni.
“This gift is a weight lifted from the brothers of 2019,” Darren Martin Jr., a 2015 Morehouse graduate, told DiversityInc. Martin is the founder and chairman of Streamlined Media & Communications.
“It’s a weight lifted from their guardians and community who supported them throughout their journey,” Martin said. “It’s a generational worry and debt that has disproportionately affected Black individuals dismissed so suddenly.
“More importantly, it’s a blueprint of how we as a community can start to give back en masse to our next generations. There’s this thought that the new generation has to struggle as much as the old in order to be worthy of success.
“But that’s not how we work through generations of disenfranchisement, that’s not how we set up our communities for the long term, and Mr. Smith has challenged us all to rethink and become more aware of what is possible for our people. I’m more than happy for the class and for what this offers their future selves.”
In response to Smith’s announcement, Bernice A. King, CEO of King Center and daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, tweeted:
Wow. What a love-power move by Robert Smith. I believe it’s the start of something major. I’m grateful for what Mr. Smith, who purchased my father’s birth home for the National Park Service, is doing for @Morehouse, which happens to be Daddy’s alma mater. https://t.co/uRstRi49fr
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) May 19, 2019