College graduates have a history of not remembering much of what their commencement speaker had to say. That won’t be the case with Morehouse College’s nearly 400 graduates from a Sunday ceremony.
Robert E. Smith -- founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data and technology-driven companies – told the graduates of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta that “we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus.”
That may have sounded like standard fare for a speech until his following words: "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."
That’s right, not a donation to the college – a contribution to each graduate to pay off student loans.
As The Associated Press reported: “The announcement immediately drew stunned looks from faculty and students alike. Then the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning and stood up, applauding.”
And they will continue to applaud for many years to come as the burden of repaying debt for their educations is removed.
Though college officials could not provide an estimate of the exact amount owed by the current graduating class, students graduate with an average debt of $30,000 to $40,000, Terrance L. Dixon, vice president of enrollment management, told The AP.
At $30,000 per student, the Smith family contribution comes to $12 million. But AP reported the estimated contribution could come closer to $40 million.
Beyond the students and their families, there’s a little something in this for everyone.
Those contending the wealthy do not pay enough taxes and fail to invest their money in the nation’s future can point to this as a positive exception and example.
Those arguing against free college education for all – a popular position on the Democratic presidential campaign trail – can argue that the amount of student debt among seniors at Morehouse is alone proof enough of the problem for young people today.
And those encouraging active support of higher education, and HBCUs in particular, can rightly say that while scholarship funds and endowments are vital, such a high-profile contribution to directly aid every student in the graduating class is due tremendous praise. And a lot of thanks.
For all intents and purposes, 400 students on Sunday won the lottery. But with many more classes to follow and thousands upon thousands of students across the country continuing to accumulate debt that will take them decades to erase, Sunday’s stunning announcement only casts further light on an issue that is integral to the future of the country.