During his commencement speech at Morehouse College, the billionaire investor Robert F. Smith pledged that he and his family would pay off the student debt for the entire graduating class.
The 396 young men began the day as students in caps and gowns, ready to graduate from Morehouse College — full of hope, but burdened in most cases with the debts that financed their education.
Then their commencement speaker went off-script with an extraordinary pledge: the newly minted alumni of the historically black college in Atlanta would go forth into the world student debt-free.
Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor who founded Vista Equity Partners and became the richest black man in America, told the crowd that he and his family would pay off the entire graduating class’s student debt, freeing them to begin their next chapter, whether it was a master’s program, a position with Teach for America or an internship at Goldman Sachs, without loan payments to worry about.
The announcement came at a time of growing calls across the country to do something about the mounting burden of student loan debt, which has more than doubled in the past decade. Presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren have made debt cancellation a key plank in their campaign platforms, and some states and institutions are moving to make college tuition-free.
“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Mr. Smith, dressed in academic regalia to receive an honorary doctorate, said near the end of his address on Sunday at the school’s 135th commencement service. He turned to Morehouse alumni in attendance and abruptly issued a challenge.
“This is my class, 2019,” he said, personally claiming the graduating seniors as his own. “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
It seemed to take a moment for the immensity of what he had promised to sink in. Then the place erupted, as the senior class, all male and mostly African-American, shook hands and hugged one another in glee.
“We’re all in robes, hot, the sun was beaming on us,” said Ernest Holmes, who said he had about $10,000 in loans that his parents were going to tackle. “We’re holding our papers up, trying to block the sun out of our eyes. Everyone jumped up, cheered. People were crying. It was just the most amazing thing.” Mr. Holmes said he would soon start work as a software engineer for Google in Mountain View, Calif.
“A blessing, a blessing!” were the words Brandon Manor offered as he imagined for the first time what life would be like without student loans to repay. It meant he could consider applying to a wider range of medical schools, because cost would no longer be his main concern. “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”
For the full article click here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/education/morehouse-college-robert-f-smith.html
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