*If you haven’t alreay heard, something wonderful and very important happened on Sunday. After receiving his honorary doctorate at Morehouse College, billionaire Robert F. Smith, the technology investor and philanthropist, basically freaked out everyone by announcing that his family was providing a grant to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019.
“This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.”
Say what?! Yeah, the announcement came as a humongous surprise to Smith’s staff as well as the staff at Morehouse, and you know it got thje biggest response of the morning from the crowd.
AJC.com spoke with Tonga Releford, whose son Charles Releford III is a member of the Class of 2019, and she estimates that his student loans are about $70,000.
“I feel like it’s Mother’s Day all over again,” she said.The gift has been estimated to be worth up to $40 million.
Tonga’s husband, Charles Releford Jr., is also a Morehouse graduate. He said their younger son, Colin, is a junior at Morehouse. He doesn’t know who the keynote speaker will be at Colin’s graduation ceremony but is hoping for a return performance by Smith, who is chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a software and technology investment firm.
“Maybe he’ll come back next year.”
Elijah Dormeus, a business administration major, said, “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”A resident of Harlem in New York City, Dormeus, 22, was carrying $90,000 in student debt. His five siblings all came to Atlanta to see him graduate, along with his mother, Andrea Dormeus, who drives a schoolbus. Of the debt, mother Dormeus said, “I wasn’t too worried, because my faith in God is really strong.”
Aileen Dodd, spokesperson for Morehouse College, said the gift is the biggest single gift in the school’s history.
As far as Smith is concerned, in his commencement address, he used the metaphor of simply being on a bus headed for success was good … but warned it wasn’t enough.
“You want to own it, you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way.” He charged the Class of 2019 with doing its part to improve the lives of black America. “I’m putting some fuel into your bus, “ he said. “I’m counting on you to load up that bus.”
Also receiving an honorary degree Sunday was Oscar-nominated actress and activist Angela Bassett, who referenced Morehouse graduate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and suggested that the Class of 2019 might emulate him, but take their own path.
“I want you to proudly walk in your own shoes,” she said, “and you know what it’s like when you get a new pair of shoes? I want you to be uncomfortable, I want you to be mindful, I want you to be wary.”