Robert F. Smith (left) laughs with Morehouse College President David Thomas (center) and actress Angela Bassett at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Atlanta. Smith, a billionaire technology investor and philanthropist, said he will provide grants to wipe out the student loan debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse — an estimated $40 million. Bo Emerson | Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

A billionaire technology investor and philanthropist says he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College in the United States – an estimated $40m.

Robert F Smith, this year’s commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta.

Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith told the graduates.

“This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

The announcement elicited stunned looks from faculty and students alike, before the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning. Morehouse said it was the single largest gift to the college.

Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony, had already announced a $1.5m gift to the school.

The pledge to eliminate student debt for the class of 2019 is estimated to cost $40m.

Smith said he expected the recipients to “pay it forward” and said he hoped that “every class has the same opportunity going forward”.

In the weeks before graduating from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom drew 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, per his calculations.

In an instant, that number vanished. Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, wept.

“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he said in an interview after the commencement.

“I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

His mother, Tina Mitchom, was also shocked. Eight family members, including Mitchom’s 76-year-old grandmother, took turns over four years co-signing on the loans that got him across the finishing line.

Morehouse College president David A Thomas said the gift would have a profound effect on the students’ futures.

“Many of my students are interested in going into teaching, for example, but leave with an amount of student debt that makes that untenable,” Thomas said in an interview.

“In some ways, it was a liberation gift for these young men that just opened up their choices.”

Smith, whose fortune has been estimated at $2.5 billion, was relatively unknown before making headlines as the second-largest private donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. His gift of $20 million was beaten only by Oprah Winfrey’s of $21 million.

Student loan debt in the USA reached its highest level in history in 2019, totalling about $1.5 trillion among 44 million borrowers in the US.

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38 COMMENTS

    • @Bernard Chizinga. Do they have to when we’ve had government sponsored bursaries now scholarships that anyone can freely access, but cannot because of greed, nepotism and corruption.
      This is were a lot people miss it, it’s an issue of culture. A good number of Zambian individuals donate to schools, help the vulnerable to get an education up to university level, you need to know it’s not their best interest for the world to know what they have done, their best interest is to help.
      You don’t have to donate millions to change lives, you just need to change one at a time to make a difference. It’s all on us that can to make the difference in our communities not just for the rich.

      Remember this; Making a difference starts with you.

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    • A direct challenge to Double h and other rich kids
      Mamanama double h kuti akupela?
      Ati first bateke
      Mwebantu sure.
      Ati iyo ine “I am very rich, Kuti naya ku UK mukunwafwe tea no kubwela same day”.
      Iyayi neo, “kutantikafye ama zale (K100 notes) ukufuma ku Kasama no kufikafye kuno Lusaka.” Selfish goons.
      Former footballer nao chimochinefye ama skirt too much. No CSR. No youth academy no, no nothing.

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    • I can see y’all being fooled again. Rich cats are the most greedy humans. The start a business that charges in excess of 20 times of what you can pay for the same product in other countries. Now guilty of of too much profit and surplus, they make such donations. Do you all know the history of Bill Gate and the late Steve Jacobs, Bill Gates had ripped off Steve in the early 80s and only reached a settlement after more than1/years. That’s why he’s obligated to the foundation so much, part of the deal. No enough to tell all truth here.

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    • Ba Hakainde Hichilema, why don’t you emulate your colleague and wipe all debts for university and college students in Zambia if truly you are a millionaire as portrayed some section of society.? I will be the first person to congratulate you.

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    • HH does help students a lot. We need more people yo come on board and join HH in helping the needy. Its not a one man’s show and yo dont have to be a millionaire…although it helps.

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    • @Nostradamus
      Why are you not commenting, this is your personal friend, I remember you once took me to his residence,,,, I won’t say more.

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    • Zambian millionaires are their just by name. They work hard ofcourse for it but stupidity makes then die with their money – a serious definition of poverty. How do you make money only to keep and name a name for it. That’s poverty

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  1. Kaizer Zulu has promised to wipe out the debts of all CBU students at only $2.5million

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    • Do u know how much HH has done to most Zambian students, ask Hapunda and Antonio Mwanza. The Man Pays for more than 2000 students both within and abroad. Yesterday he just hand over a clinic in chipata eastern province.

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  2. Zambian Billionaire are busy hiring Helicopters to round the Country for Campaigns and paying their workers peanuts. Zambian Billionaires are the one the Bible talks about that it very difficult for a Rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

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    • In Zambia you have people justifying procuring a VVIP Presidential Jet for $80 million …a 10 seater jet!!

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  3. Zambian billionaires want more and more but are not ready to part any of
    Their wealth.zambia is a small country
    But majority of population is on less then
    A dollar A day income but our rich do not
    Learn from this example.

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  4. This is how wealthy people are supposed to spend their money, for a noble cause. Well done Robert Smith! God will surely increase your fortune. Here in Zambia we ‘ve got billionaires who just pamper their cadres with chibuku and tuma 200 kwachas during campaigns

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  5. The bible says that yes a rich person can enter the kingdom of God.If he first gives all his money to the poor.And follow Christ.Peter Carlos Hinds.

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  6. The challenge we have in Zambia is we have reduced ourselves to blame HH and ECL for everything. Why are we missing the point which is very clear here that there’s no free lunch in the world. American students pay for their education. See the example given 25 years pay back period. Instead of bringing HH and ECL in this matter we should be waking up to reality of life the the rhetoric of preindependence of Africa promising free eggs, drinks, education etc can no longer be sustained with current levels of high populations. Otherwise congratulations Mr Smith.

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  7. One Zambian billionaire was asked :
    What is your intention?
    ZB my intention is to die for the people of Zambia and liberate them from the PF tyranny.
    The following day he was asked by different reporter why he was keeping his money in foreign banks.
    ZB Because the PF government might confiscate it from me to pay off Chinese loans.

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  8. HH the Supreme leader of the UPND has hidden the privatisation loot in the paradise papers because of his greedy and bitterness… That’s why we call him a sadist because if he died today for example, no one will claim that money not even his wife and children a good example is mobutu ‘s family… because that’s the money the western world use to boost their economies

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    • Do u know how much HH has done to most Zambian students, ask Hapunda and Antonio Mwanza. The Man Pays for more than 2000 students both within and abroad. Yesterday he just hand over a clinic in chipata eastern province.

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    • Please talk about your wealth and leave HH alone. You will die of depression just thinking of someone’s riches. Go out there and make yourself useful. HH never stole money from anybody but worked smart to create his wealth. Concentrate on the thieves that are milking this country dry while you look. HH did not privatize the mines…but then its futile trying to make fools understand that.

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  9. Do you only think a Zambian billionaire can donate towards a noble cause? It is a fuss to think in those lines. Zambian billionaires die with their billions in the bank. They would rather keep the money in the bank than giving to charity. And when they donate, they blow a trumpet on the anthill. Every jim and jack has to know that they have donated to charity. Some they stuff all the riches in offshore accounts. And when they die nobody knows of such investments. Zambian billionaires have got an animal of selfishness in them.

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  10. I DOUBT WE EVEN HAVE A BILLIONAIRE( $) IN ZAMBIA. THE DEBT THAT CHAP IS WILLING TO WIPE OUT IS WHAT THE SO CALLED ZAMBIAN RICH ARE WORTH………

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  11. Hakainde,keep your money.Thats what poor lazy beggars do.They try everything possible to make you feel guilty about your hard earned wealth.

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  12. Lusaka Times, please acknowledge the source of that information. It was online yesterday.

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  13. People give freely and no need to force them.The window in the Bible gave 2 small copper coins and the rich people out of abundance.

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  14. Zambian millionaires are their just by name. They work hard ofcourse for it but stupidity makes then die with their money – a serious definition of poverty. How do you make money only to keep and name a name for it. That’s poverty.

    True millionaires are givers ….

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  15. @Roof Top(15.1)
    Please tell me what I dont know.Otherwise,get down from your rooftop

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