Billionaire philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith paid off the student loan debt for the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.
Smith, who made his billions in the tech sector, announced the generous gift to 400 graduating seniors during the school’s 135th commencement ceremonies on Sunday at the all-male college in Atlanta.
“This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” Smith said. His remarks drew thunderous applause from the students and faculty.
The pledge to pay off the student loans is believed to be worth $40 million. It is the largest single gift in the school’s history.
Morehouse was previously beneficiary of a $1.5 million gift from Smith, who was given an honorary doctorate on Sunday.
Actress Angela Bassett joined commencement speaker Smith, left, and President of Morehouse College David A. Thomas, right, at Morehouse College’s 135th Commencement in Atlanta on Sunday.
Smith asked the graduates to pay it forward. “Because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure that we have all the opportunities of the American dream,” Smith said, according to the Associated Press. “And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”
Graduate Aaron Mitchum was shocked by Smith’s announcement.
“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,” Mitchum, 22, told the Associated Press. The finance major said he owed $200,000 in student loan debt, which he estimated would’ve taken him about 25 years to pay off.
Photos by Marcus Ingram/Getty Image