ATLANTA — Graduation keynote speaker Robert F. Smith, philanthropist and investor, speaking to the graduating class of Morehouse men of 2019, proudly announced Sunday morning that he was going to eliminate all of their student loan debt.
"My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans," Smith said to the graduating seniors. "You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity." (Click here to watch the moment)
A Morehouse official told 11Alive News the gift was worth about $40 million.
"When Dr. King said that the 'arc of the moral universe bends toward justice,' he wasn't saying it bends on its own accord. It bends because we choose to put our shoulders into it together and push," Smith said during the speech.
Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000 and has since built that firm into a billion-dollar enterprise, investing in technology and software around the world. The firm manages commitments of more than $46 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 50 software companies globally.
"Technology is creating a whole new set of on-ramps to the 21st-century economy, and together we will help assure that African Americans will acquire the tech skills and be the beneficiaries in sectors that are being automated," Smith said during his address.
Smith, a graduate of Cornell University and Columbia Business School, received an honorary degree from Morehouse on Sunday.
He is the largest private donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and was the first and only African American business leader to sign "The Giving Pledge," an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett, in which wealthy individuals pledge to give more than one-half of their wealth to causes such as poverty alleviation, disaster relief and global health and education.
Along with Smith, Morehouse conferred a Doctor of Humane Letters degree to psychologist Edmund W. Gordon, a professor emeritus at Yale and Columbia universities, whose career has spanned some 70 years. Gordon's knowledge in education access for minority and disadvantaged students is renowned nationwide.
An honorary Doctor of Arts degree was conferred on actress Angela Bassett, currently starring in and executive producer of Fox's 9-1-1, which is going into its third season. She also had recent starring roles in Marvel's Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame, both shot in metro Atlanta and among the highest grossing motion pictures of all-time.
A millionaire from Clark Atlanta University is also getting in on the gifting fun.
Kenya Barris, creator of the hit show "Black-ish", alongside his wife Dr. Rainbow Barris, donated $1 million to Clark Atlanta University, his alma mater. The gift will be named the Kenya and Rainbow Barris Annual Scholarship Award, according to the Clark Atlanta University website. Half of the money will go towards mass media arts majors and the other half will be dedicated to students who major in biology.
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