Morehouse College’s class of 2019 was sent off with a very special gift on Sunday when their commencement speaker, Robert Smith, announced that he intended to pay off the student loans of all 396 graduates.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith, a billionaire tech investor, said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
The announcement was met with cheers from graduating students, and even some university leaders on stage seemed taken aback at the news. According to CNN’s calculations, the gift is expected to total $40 million.
“When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained,” Morehouse President David A. Thomas told the network. “[Smith’s gift] gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”
After stints as a chemical engineer and investor at Goldman Sachs, Smith set out on his own, founding Vista Equity in 2000. The company specializes in tech and data investments and has proved hugely successful for Smith, who Forbes estimates is worth roughly $5 billion.
Student loan debt has ballooned in recent years, as the cost of college has risen dramatically higher than people’s incomes and ability to pay for education. As of 2019, Americans held more than $1.53 trillion in student loan debt, averaging out to $37,172 per debt holder, according to statistics from NitroCollege.
You can watch Smith reveal his gift in the video above.