The future of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class is a little bit brighter after this weekend, thanks to the inspired benevolence of one of their commencement speakers. Actually, a lot brighter. Billionaire Robert F. Smith revealed to almost 400 seniors in the crowd that he would be paying off the entirety of their student loans so that they could advance into their futures without an undue burden of debt. The announcement was also a surprise to Morehouse President David A. Thomas, who described to the Washington Post, “There was amazement in the room, people’s mouths dropped open. Students were looking at each other like, ‘What did he say?’ Parents hopped up to hug each other.”
In his commencement speech, Smith described the graduating class’s journey into the future as a sort of bus headed toward success, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported. “You want to own it, you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way,” he said. “I’m putting some fuel into your bus. I’m counting on you to load up that bus.” Smith, who according to Forbes is the richest black man in the entire world with an estimated net worth of $5 billion, has been involved in philanthropic efforts for years; CNN reported that in 2017, he was one of 14 benefactors to pledge to give away half of his fortune through the Giving Pledge. The Post estimated that his financial gift to the Morehouse grads could amount to upwards of $10 million.
Morehouse, if you recall, is a historically black, all-male institution, so Smith’s entreaty was a pointed call for the new graduates to lift up the less fortunate members of their communities, just as he was lifting up the 2019 graduating class. “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” said Smith. “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 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.” He went on to describe that his story of success was inseparable from the stories of generations of his ancestors. “Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve.”