Shannon Van Sant, NPR, May 19, 2019
Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert Smith said Sunday he is eliminating student debt for the entire 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College.
Smith, an entrepreneur and founder of the investment firm Vista Equity Partners, made the surprise announcement in front of about 400 students while delivering the college’s commencement address. Morehouse is an all-male historically black college located in Atlanta.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” Smith said. “I know my class will make sure they pay this forward … 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 previously had announced a $1.5 million gift to the school, and the additional pledge to pay off student loan debt for the class of 2019 is estimated to be $40 million.
According to Forbes magazine, Smith’s net worth is about $5 billion. He has given generously before, to Cornell University, one of his alma maters, and to cancer research and the arts.
Smith is the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett that encourages the world’s wealthiest individuals to commit to dedicating the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.