Graduating seniors at Morehouse College were already in a good mood. They were graduating from college, after all. Then their commencement speaker really made their day: He promised to pay off their student loans. This unbelievable act of generosity came from billionaire investor Robert F. Smith, who told the grads at the historically black college in Atlanta that he was “going to put a little fuel in your bus.”
The total amount covers 396 students and is worth tens of millions of dollars. Morehouse President David A. Thomas said Smith’s gift will enable the graduates to have more capital to do things like start businesses and support their families. Rising student loan debt is cited by many as one of the factors contributing to income inequality in America.
“This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.”
The announcement came as a surprise to Smith’s staff and to the staff at Morehouse, and elicited the biggest cheers of the morning.
Tonga Releford, whose son Charles Releford III is a member of the Class of 2019, estimates that his student loans are about $70,000.
The gift has been estimated to be worth up to $40 million.