Student loans have reached astronomical levels in the U.S., with the average debt totaling $33,000. But the graduating class of 2019 at Morehouse College won’t have to bear that burden thanks to one man: Robert F. Smith.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” the 56-year-old billionaire said during his commencement address, announcing that he would be paying off all of the student loans of the new grads. “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. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.”
While the exact amount that Smith will donate has yet to be confirmed, it’s estimated that it will be tens of millions of dollars. After all, he will be paying the student loan debt for 396 graduates at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta where tuition and other expenses add up to about $48,000 a year.
Smith, who is the richest black man in America worth around $5 billion, is the founder of investment firm Vista Equity. Not only has he previously donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships but he also signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, a campaign led by Warren Buffet and the Gates family that encourages millionaires to donate at least half of their wealth.
And Smith’s gift is already inspiring the new graduates. “It’s just an overwhelming feeling, in a good way,” 21-year-old Dwytt Lewis, who used to be homeless, said to CBS. “I’m so motivated to go change the world.”
Even Morehouse President David Thomas is grateful for the entrepreneur’s generosity. “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained,” he told CNN. “[Smith’s donation] gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”