Private equity billionaire Robert F. Smith tells the graduating class of Morehouse College he's going to pay off their loans.
May 20, 2019

This story had me smiling all weekend -- not just because of what it does for these individual graduates, but because of the ripple effect it will have in creating more black wealth.

"Graduates at Atlanta's Morehouse College got an unexpected surprise yesterday when billionaire investor, Robert F. Smith, announced during his commencement speech that he would pay off all the student loan debt for the graduating class," Alysin Camerota said.

SMITH: 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. My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.

"Joining us now is Morehouse graduate Charles Releford III, whose $70,000 is being paid by Mr. Smith, as well as his mother and the president of Morehouse College, David Thomas. Great to see all of you here this morning. What a weekend you've had. Charles, let me start with you. Tell me about what was happening inside your brain as the wheels were starting to process what you just heard Robert Smith say about picking up the tab on everybody's debt," Camerota said.

"Good morning. I was thinking -- I was looking around at everyone and a lot of people were kind of looking down, kind of asleep because of the sun and we were really hot," Releford said.

"Then when I heard what he said, I looked around and said, did he say that? I looked on the stage and I could see all the people is going wild, also all the students going wild. After that when we heard that, it was pretty crazy."

"I think it took a while, frankly, for it to sink in because he didn't announce it the way, like, Oprah would have, say, where -- and you get a car, and you get a car. He didn't do that. He was sort of understated. He just said it and you could see the kind of buzz then picking up in the crowd when people, after the kids processed, what it meant. tell me what you thought when you heard that and how this will change your son's life, do you think?" Camerota asked Tonga Releford.

"As a parent, we were all overwhelmed and all looking at each other going, is it real? Did he just say what we thought he said? It took us again a moment to process the fact that the student loans would be completely paid off for this class of 2019. For me, the parent of four, it opened up so many opportunities for the younger siblings of our Spelhouse family. We plan for all the kids to attend that Morehouse family and will continue to do so. I am elated," Releford said.

"What a gift. President Thomas, did you know that Mr. smith was going to do that?" Camerota asked.

Thomas said he had no idea. "The first thing that came to my mind was just a sense of - amazement and then gratitude and joy because I know from personal experience that these young men who have yet to start paying any loans can't imagine what this will actually mean for their future on any number of levels. Some will decide to follow their passions because they don't have to worry about paying off the student loans. Others will get to graduate school more quickly."

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