Robert F. Smith

Robert F. Smith, Billionaire, Pledges to Pay Off Morehouse Graduates’ Student Debt

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This billionaire investor, Robert F. Smith, announced in a commencement address at Morehouse College on Sunday that he would pay off the student loans of every member of the class of 2019 in this university.

A few minutes prior to the end of his 35-minute-long speech, the entrepreneur asked the graduates to rise and hug the student on either side of them. Smith then waited patiently until everyone was done and then declared: “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. This is the challenge to you, alumni. This is my class—2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

Robert F. Smith Pledges to Pay Off Morehouse Graduates’ Student Debt

Robert F. Smith, who had already gifted $1.5 million to the college, began his speech by talking about his daily commute on bus No. 13 to Carson Elementary, a predominantly white school across town in Denver, Colorado. Though commuting by bus was discontinued by the time he got to sixth grade, it made a huge impact on his life.

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Robert F. Smith

“Those five years drastically changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “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.”

Smith then went on to talk about how the community he grew up in allowed him to aspire to reach great heights. He also advised the young graduates to work hard at their respective careers and take calculated risks, similar to what he had done by giving up a “secure” job to pursue graduate school, and later on by leaving a lucrative investment banking career to start his own business.

Robert F. Smith graduated from Columbia Business School in 1994 and was planning to pursue a marketing career until he sat down with John Utendahl, the current Bank of America vice chairman who was Smith’s commencement speaker at the time, Forbes reported. Utendahl met with Smith after the graduation ceremony and, during a lunch meeting, managed to convince the then-new graduate to go into a career in investment banking.

Morehouse College

Under Utendahl’s mentorship, Smith rapidly climbed up the ladder, and in six years, he became the co-head of a San Francisco-based Goldman group that advised enterprise systems and storage companies. In 2000, a client loaned Smith $200,000 to start Vista Equity Partners, which today manages $46 billion in assets.

 “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward. And 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.”

The details on how Robert F. Smith will go about his promise of paying off the graduating class’ student loans, estimated to be between $10 million to $40 million, still have to be worked out. However, the philanthropic gesture, which left many students in tears, is already inspiring the young graduates to follow through on Smith’s request to “pay it forward” and to change another person’s life.

This is actually not the first time the charitable billionaire has made a generous donation to a school. In 2016, he gave $50 million to Cornell University’s School of Engineering.

However, hundreds of thousands of young graduates across the US continue to struggle with their student loans. Hopefully, the world’s wealthy will follow Smith’s lead to help out those most burdened by this debt.

Watch the video below