Billionaire Robert F. Smith, promises to pay off all of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class’ debt


Robert F. Smith gives the commencement speech to Morehouse College, and announces he will pay off the graduates’ debt.

Jessica Polito

On Sunday, May 19th, Robert F. Smith announced during his commencement speech at Morehouse College’s undergraduate graduation ceremony that he would pay off all of the student debt for the 396 graduates. The students were shocked and overwhelmed by this surprise. Smith is not an alumnus of Morehouse, but he is the founder, chairman, and CEO of his own company. Smith owns a private equity firm called Vista Equity Partners. He was declared the richest African-American in the United States last year, estimated to have a net worth of about 5 billion dollars.

Smith’s pledge to pay for the debt of the all-male, historically black college graduate’s debt was a surprise even for the president of Morehouse. Many are questioning his pledge and wondering how this process will occur. Student debt for a single graduate can total over a hundred thousand dollars. Morehouse College president, David A. Thomas, spoke out and said, “We know that Mr. Smith is going to erase the debt of the 396 students who received diplomas. What we have not determined yet is the form or mechanism and the details on how this will happen. We will be meeting in the coming days.”

During the speech, Smith remarked that he hopes the class of 2019 will pay this act of kindness forward in the future. His pledge caught the attention of people across the nation, and many were impressed by his actions. One celebrity, Martin Luther King Junior’s daughter, tweeted a response to Smith saying, “Wow. What a love-power move by Robert Smith. I believe it’s the start of something major.” King’s daughter was especially touched by the news because Morehouse College is her father’s alma mater.

While many were praising Smith for his steps to reduce the barriers that come along with student debt, others were jealous or upset. Some students who had to drop out as a result of a lack of financial support were saddened when their former peers were given this opportunity. Other graduates across the country were jealous that they weren’t given the same advantage as they leave school with thousands of dollars in debt. Though it’s unclear the exact amount Smith will pay to ensure all graduates are debt free, they were obviously grateful for this act of kindness and chanted “MVP” at Smith after the announcement. With widespread messages of love towards Smith, many college students hope this will be a kickstarter for others to pay closer attention to the crippling effects of post-graduate debt.