EXCLUSIVE: 7 Morehouse Graduates Share A Special Message To Robert F. Smith After His Pledge To Pay Off Their Student Debt
On Sunday, the businessman pledged to pay off student loan debts for the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College — a donation estimated at $40 million.
Throughout the United States, over $1.56 trillion is owed in student loan debt, according to recent statistics. A Brookings Institution report revealed that, on average, Black students owe about $7,400 more to Sallie Mae and other student loan lenders than their white counterparts.
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However, for the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, the financial reality of attaining an education won't plague their adulthood -- thanks to the benevolence of billionaire business mogul Robert F. Smith.
On Sunday, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners delivered a commencement speech for the history books. The 56-year-old told approximately 400 Morehouse graduates that he and his family would be paying off their student loan debts by way of a grant — a donation estimated at $40 million.
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"On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in the country, we're gonna put a little fuel in your bus. My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans," Smith said.
The realization of the gravity of Smith's words and generosity could be heard making its way throughout the audience.
"We are enough to take care of our own community," he later added.
The billionaire just had one expectation of the graduates: That they pay it forward.
Blavity spoke with seven graduates who are slated to reap the fortune of Smith's grant. They shared what went through their heads upon hearing such a groundbreaking announcement, how much they were expected to owe in student loan debt as well as words of gratitude for the philanthropist.
1. George Cristaff Jr.
Student Loan Debt: $100,000
"I honestly didn’t believe it at first. [I] felt as if maybe there was a catch to what he was saying. I then quickly remembered who exactly our speaker was and immediately became filled with joy. Debt-free after graduating? It’ll impact our lives forever!"View this post on Instagram
“There is an air of expectancy at Morehouse. It is expected that the student who enters here will do well. It is also expected that once a man bears the insignia of a Morehouse graduate, he will do exceptionally well. We expect nothing less...” -Benjamin E. Mays Leaving Brooklyn to attend Morehouse College was the best decision of my life. The campus itself taught me year after year that there were no limits to the things I can accomplish. Faced with challenge after challenge in these past 4 years, I learned to never give up and stay positive even when there appeared to be no hope in sight. I believe my story is one that for those who know exemplifies persistence, humility, and dedication. I reached a point in my life where I believe ANYTHING is possible. I took 30 credits this semester just to make my Mom proud and I did it!! Yet, its still hard to truly appreciate this moment because of all the Dreams I have yet to accomplish but know are right around the corner. Regardless, for the time being I’m going to savor this moment. I dedicate this accomplishment to my family, my frat brothers, and all those who were with me from day one or joined along the way 🤞🏾♥️ Truly Blessed to be able to say this, I’m a Morehouse Man 🎓✊🏾 #BeatTheOdds #ThisForTheFloss #DebtFree #ItsTimeToChangeTheWorld
2. Jawuan Derrick
Student Loan Debt: Over $70,000
"When I first heard the announcement, I thought about my family and friends and how this would impact them because I will be in a situation to provide for them more and help them move out of the poverty. I am beyond grateful for him and his kind actions — happy to call him a Morehouse brother."
3. Quintin Paschall
Student Loan Debt: $7,000
"I was actually in the board of trustees meeting when we voted to give Robert F. Smith an honorary doctorate from Morehouse, so I had known for a while that he was going to be our commencement speaker. However, we were completely in awe in the moment listening to his speech, when he announced that he was going to pay off our student loan debt. And from what I understand, as well, no one in the administration had known that he was going to announce that, either."
"I actually don’t have very much loan debt, but for some of the guys who had been sitting next to me and had accumulated debt over their years of Morehouse, that announcement just caused the entire audience to combust in excitement."
"I have in excess of $150K in debt, so this really means I get to start this next chapter of my life with freedom and optimism."
"I cannot adequately express my profound appreciation, and say with my whole heart 'thank you!' This is life-changing for me. I thought that I would start my career with an enormous amount of debt, and I now can go into the future with freedom, optimism and the hope that I too will be able to use my life to make a difference for others."
"Thank you, Dr. Robert Smith! I accept your challenge to pay it forward, and will spend my life making sure that I use this opportunity to fight for justice and liberation of others."
5. Austyn Renard Wyche
Student Loan Debt: $0
"I was astonished when I heard the announcement. I thought it sounded too good to be true. I don’t have any student debt. I was fortunate enough to attend Morehouse on a full-tuition academic scholarship. I would like to thank Robert for giving my fellow Morehouse brothers a clean slate for the future."
6. Kylan Kester
Student Loan Debt: $20,000
"It was wild because it was perhaps the second-hottest day in Atlanta, and between celebrating with family and being up bright and early to head to the ceremony, I’d say my brothers and I were drawn. But when we heard the announcement, I think it’s safe to say all of my brothers surrounding me were so blown away; it didn’t feel so hot anymore."
"I was awarded a degree in business, so when he made the announcement, me and one of my brothers immediately started running numbers to estimate how much that was going to be for 400 students: $40 million! I’m still reeling from the fact that I have attained my degree, this inspirational gift from brother Smith was a surprise and delight for sure."
"I don’t know if I even really understand the gravity of what he’s done for us yet. I made the decision came to Morehouse, and chose to study marketing to become an entrepreneur. I shared an article on LinkedIn recently that revealed that nearly 70 percent of students [in 2018] left with an average of $29,800 of debt, which has a huge effect on the attractiveness of taking on the risk of entrepreneurship. To have this investment in my education and this charge to pay it forward is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I didn’t even expect."
"To Mr. Smith and all of those involved, thank you for making a bet like this on us and setting an example that I foresee will have a ripple effect in the years to come. I am honored to have him as a part of our brotherhood and Morehouse and look forward to demonstrating my gratitude through leadership and service."
7. Duby Maduegbunam
Student Loan Debt: Under $20,000
View this post on Instagram
I always prided myself on not letting you fully define who I am but wow. How would I have made it without you? I’m standing here at this point because of you. You taught me more things about myself that I couldn’t imagine discovering. Opened my eyes to life beyond you. Led me around the world and I followed. Thank you is not enough....If you know you know ✍🏾
"I’ve been blessed enough to have been on a basketball scholarship to cover most of my tuition at Morehouse. [However,] this is a blessing directly from God. Mr. Smith just gave us a generational headstart, and my brothers and I shall capitalize on this blessing. He is the epitome of a stand-up man, reaching back to young Black men. It’s surreal. All I can say is thank you, and I’m on my way to leave my mark on the world with one less thing to worry about. To God be the glory."
Congrats, grads. Now, go change the world.