Billionaires: Sometimes they’re good! On Sunday, the graduating class of Morehouse University in Georgia got a surprise: Their commencement speaker told them he’d pay off all of their student debt.
That man is Robert F. Smith, founder of Vista Equity and who, as per Forbes, is worth some $5 billion, making him by their estimations the richest black person in America. According to CNN, he’ll now be roughly $40 million short, or the amount of debt shared by the school’s 396 new graduates.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith told the crowd. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
“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,” Smith added. “We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.”
The announcement was, as you can probably imagine, met with rapturous applause and not a small amount of shock, from students and even members of the faculty. Morehouse president David A. Thomas praised the generous gift, which would mean at least 396 students not hobbled by debt that could take years, even decades to pay back.
“When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained,” he said. “[Smith’s donation] gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”
This isn’t the first time Smith has paid it forward. In 2016, he donated $50 million to Cornell University; they repaid the gift by renaming their chemical and bioengineering school after him. In 2017, he joined fellow billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in signing the Giving Pledge, which asks wealthy Americans to give away half their fortunes.
According to Yahoo!, student debt has ballooned in America to $1.53 trillion total, or $37,172 on average.
Smith’s generosity did not go ignored on social media.
And of course, some couldn’t help but make jokes.