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

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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Company walks away from massive oilsands project

VANCOUVER — Teck Resources Ltd. has withdrawn its application for a massive… Continue reading

Police move to clear rail blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY, Ont. — Ontario Provincial Police moved Monday morning to… Continue reading

Skeptic of world being round dies in California rocket crash

BARSTOW, Calif. — A California man who said he wanted to fly… Continue reading

Markets tank on concern about virus impact on world economy

BANGKOK — Shares skidded, oil prices sank and the price of gold… Continue reading

Alberta Court of Appeal to rule on whether federal carbon tax should stand

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal is to release its decision… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Raptors Uprising GC offer second chance to gamer suspended for 2019 season

TORONTO — Raptors Uprising GC, the gaming arm of the Raptors, has… Continue reading

Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson wins Canadian women’s curling championship

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — A dream team of former skips came together… Continue reading

Weinstein jury back to work with signs of split over charges

NEW YORK — Jurors at Harvey Weinstein’s New York City rape trial… Continue reading

Jane Goodall’s ‘The Book of Hope’ coming out in 2021

NEW YORK — Jane Goodall’s next book will be a tribute to… Continue reading

Sylvan Lake Wranglers comeback to nab OT win in Game 2 over Red Deer Vipers

The Sylvan Lake Wranglers have a knack for the dramatics early in… Continue reading

Wranglers win wild Game 1 double OT thriller over Red Deer Vipers

The best-of-seven series continues Sunday in Sylvan Lake

Kings and Queens basketball triumph over Ambrose, keep playoff hopes alive

Guard Sandra Garica-Bernal sets new Queens all-time steals mark

Most Read