In what came as a surprise for the 2019 graduating batch of Morehouse College in Atlanta, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith has vowed to pay off the student debt of the outgoing batch on Sunday (May 19).
Robert F Smith, an African-American investment banker and a former chemical engineer, who was present at the graduation ceremony to receive an honorary doctoral degree told the batch of 396 students that he plans to pay off the aggregate of their student debt, estimated at a whopping 40 million dollars.
Smith started his speech by going back through the memory lane. He said that he attended the Carson Elementary School and that he will never forget climbing onto bus No. 13 to the school. He said that the 5 years he had spent in Carson changed the course of his life.
"The teachers at Carson were extraordinary. They embraced me and challenged me to think critically and start to move toward my full potential. I, in turn, came to realize at a young age that the white kids and the black kids, the Jewish kids and the one Asian kid were all pretty much the same," said Smith.
During the speech, Smith deviated from the topic and told the students about his plans to cut off their debts. Both the parents and students were awestruck after listening to him and his plan was received with a wild round of applause.
"My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans," he told the students. A proud Smith told the graduating seniors "This is my class and I know my class will make sure they pay this forward". He wanted the students to understand that as they are receiving this gift from him, one day when they are able to do something they shall also think about taking care of people.
He encouraged the graduates to enjoy their degrees as well as to be responsible for doing great things with it. "The degree you earn today is one of the most elite credentials that America has to offer... but I don't want you to think of it as a document that hangs on a wall and reflects what you've accomplished up till now. No. That degree is a contract, a social contract that calls on you to devote your talents and energies to honouring those legends on whose shoulders you and I stand," reports Washington Post.
Earlier this year, Smith had announced a donation of 1.5 million dollars to Morehouse. He is the board chairman of the prestigious concert auditorium, Carnegie Hall. He is the first African-American to hold that position. He is also the chairman of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights.