The Slatest

Commencement Speaker at Morehouse College Vows to Pay Off Class of 2019’s Student Loans

Robert F. Smith speaks onstage during the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple Of Hope Awards on December 12, 2018 in New York City.
Robert F. Smith speaks onstage during the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple Of Hope Awards on December 12, 2018 in New York City.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Graduating seniors at Morehouse College in Georgia got a big surprise Sunday that made an already memorable day even better. In the middle of his commencement address, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith said he would pay off the student loans for the entire graduating class of the historically black college. “My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he told the new graduates, who broke out into a huge cheer and gave Smith a standing ovation. “You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity.”

Paying off all the student loans of the nearly 400 graduating seniors in the all-male college adds up to around $40 million, according to Morehouse. Smith is ranked as the 355th richest person in the world by Forbes with an estimated net worth of $5 billion. “This is my class,” the 56-year-old founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.” Smith received an honorary doctorate at the graduating ceremony and had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the many people who took to Twitter to comment on the news. “This could be the start of what’s known in Econ as a ‘natural experiment.’ Follow these students & compare their life choices w their peers over the next 10-15 years,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. At the same time though the freshman lawmaker pointed out that “people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with” but “it is an incredible act of community investment in this system as it is.”