Student Debt Pledge

Robert F. Smith (left) laughs with David Thomas (center) and actress Angela Bassett on Sunday at Morehouse College in Atlanta. 

A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at Morehouse College when he announced at their commencement Sunday that he would pay off their student loans — estimated at up to $40 million.

Robert F. Smith, this year’s commencement speaker, made the announcement while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. Smith, who is black, 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,” the investor and philanthropist told graduates in his morning address. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

The announcement immediately drew stunned looks from faculty and students alike. Then the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning and stood up, applauding. 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 student debt for the class of 2019 is estimated to be as much as $40 million though no immediate total had been calculated yet.

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