However, for the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, the financial reality of attaining an education won’t plague their adulthood – thanks to the benevolence of billionaire business mogul Robert F. Smith.
On Sunday, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners delivered a commencement speech for the history books. The 56-year-old told approximately 400 Morehouse graduates that he and his family would be paying off their student loan debts by way of a grant – a donation estimated at $40 million.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in the country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus.
Blavity spoke with seven graduates who are slated to reap the fortune of Smith’s grant. They shared what went through their heads upon hearing such a groundbreaking announcement, how much they were expected to owe in student loan debt as well as words of gratitude for the philanthropist.
“I honestly didnt believe it at first. [I] felt as if maybe there was a catch to what he was saying. I then quickly remembered who exactly our speaker was and immediately became filled with joy. Debt-free after graduating? Itll impact our lives forever!”
“When I first heard the announcement, I thought about my family and friends and how this would impact them because I will be in a situation to provide for them more and help them move out of the poverty. I am beyond grateful for him and his kind actions – happy to call him a Morehouse brother.”
“I was actually in the board of trustees meeting when we voted to give Robert F. Smith an honorary doctorate from Morehouse, so I had known for a while that he was going to be our commencement speaker. And from what I understand, as well, no one in the administration had known that he was going to announce that, either.”
“I actually dont have very much loan debt, but for some of the guys who had been sitting next to me and had accumulated debt over their years of Morehouse, that announcement just caused the entire audience to combust in excitement.”
A Brookings Institution report revealed that, on average, Black students owe about $7,400 more to Sallie Mae and other student loan lenders than their white counterparts
“When we heard the announcement I – like many – was in shock. While we heard his words, it took a moment to sink in. I’m still in shock and this all feels surreal.”
“I have in excess of $150K in debt, so this really means I get to start this next chapter of my life with freedom and optimism.”
“I cannot adequately express my profound appreciation, and say with my whole heart ‘thank you!’ This is life-changing for me. I thought that I would start my career with an enormous amount of debt, and I now can go into the future with freedom, optimism and the hope that I too will be able to use my life to make a difference for others.”
However, we were completely in awe in the moment listening to his speech, when he announced that he was going to pay off our student loan debt
“Thank you, Dr. Robert Smith! I accept your challenge to pay it forward, and will spend my life making sure that I use this opportunity to fight for justice and liberation of others.”
“I was astonished when I heard the announcement. I thought it sounded too good to be true. I dont have any student debt. I was fortunate enough to attend Morehouse on a full-tuition academic scholarship. I would like to thank Robert for giving my fellow Morehouse brothers a clean slate for the future.”
“It was wild because it was perhaps the second-hottest day in Atlanta, and between celebrating with family and being up bright and early to head to the ceremony, Id say my brothers and I were drawn. But when we heard the announcement, I think its safe to say all of my brothers surrounding me were so blown away; it didnt feel so hot anymore.”
“I was awarded a degree in business, so when he made the announcement, me and one of my brothers immediately started running numbers to estimate how much that was going to be for 400 students: $40 million! Im still reeling from the fact that I have attained my degree, this inspirational gift from brother Smith was a surprise and delight for sure.”
“I dont know if I even really understand the gravity of what hes done for us yet. I made the e to Morehouse, and chose to study marketing to become an entrepreneur. I shared an article on LinkedIn recently that revealed that nearly 70 percent of students [in 2018] left with an average of $29,800 of debt, which has a huge effect on the attractiveness of taking on the risk of entrepreneurship. To have this investment in my education and this charge to pay it forward is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I didnt even expect.”
“To Mr. Smith and all of those involved, thank you try this for making a bet like this on us and setting an example that I foresee will have a ripple effect in the years to come. I am honored to have him as a part of our brotherhood and Morehouse and look forward to demonstrating my gratitude through leadership and service.”