Advertisement
  1. Nation & World

Speaker stuns Morehouse grads, to pay off $40M student debt

Robert F. Smith, left, laughs with David Thomas, center, and actress Angela Bassett at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Atlanta. Smith, a billionaire technology investor and philanthropist, said he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College - an estimated $40 million. Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. [Associated Press]
Robert F. Smith, left, laughs with David Thomas, center, and actress Angela Bassett at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Atlanta. Smith, a billionaire technology investor and philanthropist, said he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College - an estimated $40 million. Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. [Associated Press]
Published May 20, 2019

A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at Morehouse College when he announced at their commencement Sunday that he would pay off their student loans __ estimated at $40 million.

Robert F. Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. Smith, who is black, is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies.

"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we're gonna put a little fuel in your bus," the investor and philanthropist told graduates in his morning address. "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."

The announcement immediately drew stunned looks from faculty and students alike. Then the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning. Morehouse said it is the single largest gift to the college.

Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school. The pledge to eliminate student debt for the class of 2019 is estimated to be $40 million.

Smith said he expected the recipients to "pay it forward" and said he hoped that "every class has the same opportunity going forward."

"Because we are enough to take care of our own community," Smith said. "We are enough to ensure that we have all the opportunities of the American dream. And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds."

In the weeks before graduating from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom drew up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay back his $200,000 in student loans — 25 years at half his monthly salary, per his calculations.

In an instant, that number vanished. Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, wept.

"I can delete that spreadsheet," he said in an interview after the commencement. "I don't have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off."

His mother, Tina Mitchom, was also shocked. Eight family members, including Mitchom's 76-year-old grandmother, took turns over four years co-signing on the loans that got him across the finish line.

"It takes a village," she said. "It now means he can start paying it forward and start closing this gap a lot sooner, giving back to the college and thinking about a succession plan" for his younger siblings.

Morehouse College president David A. Thomas said the gift would have a profound effect on the students' futures.

"Many of my students are interested in going into teaching, for example, but leave with an amount of student debt that makes that untenable," Thomas said in an interview. "In some ways, it was a liberation gift for these young men that just opened up their choices."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2009 file photo, Frank Knight, 101, of Yarmouth, Maine, stands in front of an elm tree known as "Herbie" in Yarmouth. Knight took care of the tree for about 50 years while working as the Yarmouth tree warden. The tree, estimated to be 217 years old, was cut down Jan. 19, 2010 after suffering numerous bouts of Dutch elm disease. "Herbie" may be gone, but he'll live on in cloned trees that are now being made available to the public. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) [STEVEN SENNE  |  AP]
    What was once a 213-year-old tree will now be available for purchase — in the form of thousands of cloned versions of the tree once named ‘Herbie.’
  2. The Stewart Detention Center is seen through the front gate, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Lumpkin, Ga. The rural town is about 140 miles southwest of Atlanta and next to the Georgia-Alabama state line. The town’s 1,172 residents are outnumbered by the roughly 1,650 male detainees that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said were being held in the detention center in late November. (AP Photo/David Goldman) [DAVID GOLDMAN  |  AP]
    The Associated Press sent journalists throughout the country to immigration court.
  3. In this Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing in Washington. President Donald Trump's legal team will include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, former Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who led the Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton, according to a person familiar with the matter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    The former Florida attorney general reportedly will join former Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
  4. In this image from video, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., escort Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts into the Senate chamber in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. [AP]
    The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump Thursday.
  5. This July 9, 2019, file photo taken from video, shows an aerial view of Little Saint James Island, in the U. S. Virgin Islands, a property purchased by Jeffery Epstein more than two decades ago. A lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, by prosecutors in the Virgin Islands says multimillionaire sex offender Jeffery Epstein used two private islands, including Little Saint James, in the U.S. territory to engage in a nearly two-decade conspiracy to traffic and abuse girls. (AP Photo/Gianfranco Gaglione, File) [GIANFRANCO GAGLIONE  |  AP]
    A lawsuit seeks forfeiture of the private islands, valued by managers of Epstein’s estate at more than $86 million, because of their use in alleged crimes.
  6. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined at left by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., meets with reporters as the House prepares to send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    Lev Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
  7. In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks after the Senate received the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump from the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday. (Senate Television via AP) [AP]
    The President complained anew Wednesday that it was all a “hoax,” even as fresh details emerged about his efforts in Ukraine.
  8. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. (Times | 2014)
    The chief justice dropped an ‘Okay, Boomer’ reference during oral arguments in the case of a pharmacist who accused the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System of age discrimination.
  9. An Equal Rights Amendment supporters yell encouragement to two legislators as they walk down a hallway inside the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. A House committee approved a resolution Tuesday,  to ratify the state's Equal Rights Amendment, which advocates hope will become the next amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 13-9 vote split along party lines, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposing it.(Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) [BOB BROWN  |  AP]
    It is seen as a momentous victory by women’s rights advocates even though it is far from certain the measure will ever be added to the U.S. Constitution.
  10. Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev talk to each other prior to a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday. The Tass news agency reports Wednesday that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin. Russian news agencies said Putin thanked Medvedev for his service but noted that the prime minister's Cabinet failed to fulfill all the objectives set for it. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP) [DMITRY ASTAKHOV                |  AP]
    Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned his post after Putin announced the proposed constitutional amendments.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement