Gifting freedom to new graduates

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Self-made billionaire pays it forward
By Jerry Brownstein
Robert F. Smith worked his way up from the poor black neighbourhood of his youth to become the chairman and CEO of the technology investment firm Vista Equity Partners. He was recently invited to give the commencement address at Morehouse College, a prestigious all-black university in Atlanta, Georgia (US). As he started delivering his speech the 400 graduates probably thought it would be the usual commencement message of how to go forth in life, etc... but then he surprised them. He stopped... stared at the crowd... and said, “My family and I are going to create a grant to eliminate all of your student loans!”

“There was total amazement, people’s mouths dropped open,” said Morehouse President David A. Thomas, who learned of the gift at the same moment as the students. “Students were looking at each other like, ‘What did he say?’ Parents hopped up to hug each other.” To fully appreciate this moment you need to understand the current system in US universities. Fees and expenses are extremely high and the vast majority of students have to take out large government loans in order to get a degree. Millions of young Americans are burdened with these loans as they struggle to repay them once they graduate and begin to work. Getting a gift like this at their graduation must truly feel like a miracle. Mr Smith said he wanted the students to understand that part of receiving this help is that they will also think about taking care of the people who come after them when they are able to... paying it forward.


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