Thursday 20 June 2019

WATCH: US billionaire stuns students with $40m gift to pay off all their college loans

 

Generous: Robert F Smith at the graduation ceremony. Photo: Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Generous: Robert F Smith at the graduation ceremony. Photo: Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Harriet Alexander

THE richest black man in America stunned a group of graduating students at the weekend by promising to pay off all their student debt.

"My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans," announced Robert F Smith, to scenes of jubilation at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mr Smith's gift to the all-male, historically black college is estimated to be worth around $40m (€35m). There were 396 graduates in the class, and tuition, room and board, and other costs run to about $48,000 each per year, according to college president David Thomas.

"I don't have to live off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," said Aaron Mitchom (22), a finance student. He had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay back his $200,000 in student loans - 25 years at half his monthly salary.

In an instant, that number vanished. Mr Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, wept. "I can delete that spreadsheet," he said. "I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off."

Mr Smith, born to a middle class family in Denver, Colorado, made his $5bn fortune from his private equity firm, Vista Equity.

He has used his wealth to make significant donations to charitable causes - among them $50m to Cornell University where he got his bachelor's degree in 1985 - to support chemical and biomolecular engineering, and African American and female students in the engineering school.

In 2017, Mr Smith joined the Giving Pledge, coordinated by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, through which wealthy individuals vow to give more than half their money.

Mr Smith's $20m gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the largest by an individual donor.

The 56-year-old said: "Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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