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

Saanich Police looking for information relating to suspicious death

The body of a man was found on Crease Avenue just after 9 a.m. on Saturday

250th Free Little Library installed in Victoria

Greater Victoria now has the highest density of mapped little libraries in the country

Urbanists hope to see Victoria’s unused rooftops, parkades, parking lots become usable green space

Downtown Residents Association says city dwellers should have access to parks

For the love of fibre: fibre arts celebrated through demonstrations and market showcasing locally made items

Fibre arts celebrated through demonstrations and market showcasing locally made items

Cemetery tour explores Metchosin’s early history

A tour with grave consequences for those wishing to explore Metchosin’s history takes place Aug. 25

70 years of lifting: Canadian man, 85, could cinch weightlifting championship

The senior gym junkie is on track to win the World Masters Weightlifting championship

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read