Morehouse student loan donor has history of paying it forward

U.S. & World

Morehouse College graduating seniors got a surprise on Sunday when billionaire investor Robert F. Smith announced he would pay off their student loan debt.

But the gesture is the latest example of Smith paying it forward.

When Smith said: “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.” The reaction was priceless.

Smith pledged to wipe out every penny of student loan debt for nearly 400 Morehouse College graduates

“I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” Smith said.

The 56-year-old son of educators says he grew up understanding the importance of philanthropy, watching his mother make monthly donations to the United Negor College Fund.

Throughout his career, Smith has donated millions and even founded philanthropic projects. 

He started his career as a chemical engineer before heading to Columbia Business School. 

In 2000, Smith launched Vista Equity Partners, an equity firm that invests in software companies. 

“We created a place where people can become their best selves,” Smith said.

Today, Smith is the country’s wealthiest African-American with a $5 billion fortune.

“The President of Morehouse College tells us that this is the school’s largest, single donation but the true value … it really is immeasurable. These men will be able to potentially buy houses or start businesses, invest in their retirement and invest in themselves by maybe going on to graduate school — realities that might not have been possible if not for the generosity of Robert F. Smith,” Victor Blackwell said.

Some grads are already planning how they will give back.

“It’s my goal to go to law school and study civil rights law and actually pay it forward by representing people who are under-represented in the courtroom and advocating on their behalf,” Cameron Edge said.

“More than the money, the awards, the recognition, the titles, we will all be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us,” Smith said.

Smith has made other significant donations.

Notably, $20 million dollars in 2016 to the National Museum of African-American History.

One of the largest private donations to the museum, second only to Oprah Winfrey. 

Speaking to students at his alma mater in 2017, he shared his familiar message: Pay It Forward.

“Part of what you really have to do is think about what is your highest and best use, ok… and giving back to your community,” Smith said.

Well, Smith did just that and he hopes these Morehouse men will do the same. 

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