Robert F. Smith Pledges to Pay 2019 Morehouse Grads' Loans

Robert F. Smith Pledges to Pay 2019 Morehouse Grads' Loans

Philanthropist and Giving Pledger Robert F. Smith has pledged to pay off the student loans of the Morehouse College class of 2019, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Washington Post report.

Announced during the commencement speech Smith delivered to the school's nearly four hundred graduates and their families, the commitment is valued at up to $40 million — making it the largest gift in the school's history. The announcement — which was not included in Smith's prepared remarks — came as a surprise to Smith's own staff as well as Morehouse College officials. Tuition, room and board, and other costs at the all-male historically black college run about $48,000 per year, Morehouse College president David A. Thomas told the Post.

"It was a sense of a new start on life," said finance graduate Deionte Jones, who was raised by a single mother and is the first in his family to go to college. "It can be challenging to be an African American in this society because we sometimes don't come from strong economic backgrounds. This lifts a huge weight off my family's back."

Smith, who received an honorary doctorate during the ceremony and who worked as a chemical engineer before making his fortune as chair and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a software and technology investment firm, committed $1.5 million to the college in January in support of endowed scholarships and the creation of a park near campus.

In his commencement speech, Smith, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, challenged the Class of 2019 to do its part to "pay it forward" and work to improve the lives of African Americans. "You want to own [the bus]," he said, "you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way. I'm putting some fuel into your bus. I'm counting on you to load up that bus."