Morehouse College is one of the top historically black colleges and universities in the United States. The private, all-male institution has notable alumni such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson.
“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”, he said at the end of his speech, as reported by The Altanta Journal-Constitution. “This is my class and I know my class will pay this forward.”
One of those graduates was Bryan Armstead, Jr., a 23-year-old Spanish major with $80,000 in loans.
“I started to clap but I had a blank stare on my face because I couldn’t believe he said that”, Bryan told PEOPLE. “I was at a loss for words. I’m still in shock.”
Elijah Dormeus, a business administration major with $90,000 in loans, said, “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”
According to PEOPLE, Morehouse College students graduate with an average of $26,000 to $30,000 in student loan debt. In a report about US student loan debt statistics, Student Loan Hero, Inc. stated that 69 percent of university students took out student loans in the Class of 2018, graduating with an average of $29,800 in debt between private and federal lenders.
Americans have over $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, about $521 billion more than the amount of credit card debt throughout the country. The student loan debt is carried among almost 45 million Americans, and over 10 percent of the loans are in default or delinquent. Unlike most debt, student loans cannot be cleared in bankruptcy.
“It’s a trickle-down effect in two different ways”, Bryan said. “We’re able to touch the lives of so many because we’re not in a position of starting from being in debt. Since we saw someone do this, it lets us know we can do that as well. He gave us hope.”
Robert F. Smith is a technology investor and philanthropist. He has earned his fortune as the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, which he founded in 2000. Vista is a private equity firm with a focus on software companies. The firm is currently worth about $46 billion and is one of the most prominent firms of its kind, according to the BBC. His net worth is $5 billion, about twice that of the most well-known black billionaire in the US, Oprah Winfrey.
Robert is the first black American to commit to donating the majority of his wealth through the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates alongside Warren Buffett. In 2016, he donated $50 million to his alma mater, Cornell University, to support black and female engineering students. He also gave $20 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture as a founding donor of the institution.
The billionaire philanthropist expects the recipients of his generous gift to use their newfound financial freedom to help others along the path to success.
“You want to own it, you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way,” he said during his speech. “I’m putting some fuel into your bus. I’m counting on you to load up that bus.”