Graduation speaker pledges to pay class of 2019 student debt

Robert F. Smith made the announcement to an all-male historically black college in Atlanta

A billionaire technology investor and philanthropist says he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College – an estimated $40 million.

Robert F. 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. Smith 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,” Smith told the graduates. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

The announcement elicited stunned looks from faculty and students alike, before 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.”

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.”

Errin Haines Whack, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ucluelet approves RVs as temporary housing solution for fish plant workers

“We are hoping for the best. Everybody has to support each other here.”

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce champions unique staff housing solution

“It was a win-win situation for all of us.”

Tofino mayor cheers provincial government’s plastics survey

Mayors of Tofino, Victoria, Squamish and Rossland collaborate on letter.

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies to decrease electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Retired Vancouver Island teacher ‘Set for Life’ after $675K lottery win

Patrick Shannon plans to buy new sails for his sailboat

Speculation tax forces sale of Greater Victoria’s iconic ‘Tulip House’

Bob and Jan Fleming selling their retirement home famous for its thousands of tulips

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Man at centre of dropped HIV-disclosure case sues province and 10 cops

Brian Carlisle of Abbotsford says Mission RCMP defamed him and were ‘negligent’ in their investigation

Striking Western Forest Products workers could lose benefits in September

Union, forest company at odds over Vancouver Island benefit payments as strike enters third month

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Most Read