Updated: 2 pm | Posted: 11:30 a.m.
A billionaire tech investor stunned the entire Morehouse College promotion when he announced in his early days that he would pay off their student loans – estimated at $ 40 million.
Robert F. Smith, this year’s speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning speaking to nearly 400 graduates of the historically black college in Atlanta. Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in companies focused on software, data and technology.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have lived in this country, we are going to put some fuel on 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 drew stunned looks from faculty and students, before the graduates began to cheer the morning. Morehouse said it was the biggest giveaway in college.
Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse at the ceremony, had previously announced a $ 1.5 million donation to the school.
Smith said he expected recipients to “pay up front” and that he hopes “every class has the same opportunity in the future.”
In the weeks leading up to his graduation from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old financial major Aaron Mitchom wrote up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $ 200,000 in student loans – 25 years to half of his monthly salary, according to his calculations.
In an instant, that number was gone. Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, cried.
“I can delete this spreadsheet,” he said in an interview after the start. “I don’t have to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart sank. We all cried. Right now it was like a burden had been on. removed. “
Her mother, Tina Mitchom, was also shocked. Eight family members, including Mitchom’s 76-year-old grandmother, took turns for four years to co-sign the loans that brought him across the finish line.
“You need a village,” she says. “Now that means he can start paying up front and start closing that gap much sooner, giving back to 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 future of students.
“A lot of my students are interested in teaching, for example, but come away with student debt that makes it untenable,” Thomas said in an interview. “In a way, it was a gift of liberation for these young men who had just opened up their choices.”
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