In a matter of minutes, philanthropist Robert F. Smith changed the lives of hundreds of graduating seniors Sunday at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
The billionaire businessman, who delivered the commencement address for the Class of 2019, brought students to tears when he casually announced his family would pay off the student loan debt for the nearly 400 graduates at the historically black school.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith said in a video posted on social media.
[Watch the video above]
Smith wasn’t done. He urged alumni sitting in the audience to dig into their pockets as well.
“Now I’ve got the alumni over there. This is a challenge to you, alumni,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
The stunned audience erupted in wild applause. The gift to the private, all-male school is said to be worth about $40 million.
Finance major Aaron Mitchom wept during Smith’s speech after hearing his $200,000 in student loans would soon be settled, The Associated Press reported.
“I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off,” Mitchom, 22, said.
Smith is a Cornell grad, and has an MBA from Columbia University. He founded Vista Equity Partners, a software and technology investment firm, which has $46 billion in assets, according to its website.
He is the richest African-American in the U.S., with a net worth of $5 billion, according to Forbes.
Spike Lee, who graduated from Morehouse in 1979 took to Instagram from Vietnam — where he’s shooting his latest film — to commend the tech investor’s generosity.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” Lee said in a video before launching into the Morehouse school song.
Smith received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony. The school said his gift is the largest single donation it’s ever received.
Earlier this year, Smith announced he was donating $1.5 million to the school for scholarships and a new park.