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© 2017 by Latanya Muhammad with WIX. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and/ or written permission from the website's author and/or owner is prohibited.  Material may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Latanya Muhammad with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Robert F. Smith's Small Request of Morehouse Grads: "Pay this forward"

May 20, 2019




Image courtesy of Google Images



Graduates of Morehouse College’s 2019 class learned first-hand this past weekend that not all superheroes wear capes. Sometimes they stand before you at the most unlikely time and change your life. During the commencement speech, led by Mr. Robert F. Smith (philanthropist, CEO and founder of Vista Equity Partners, and self-made billionaire), graduates got the surprise of their lives when he announced he would be paying off their debts.   


The announcement, following Mr. Smith receiving an honorary doctorate from the school, was met with surprised faces, applauds, and students shouting “MVP”. His gift gave four hundred graduating seniors at the historically black male college something else to look forward to. Not only would they leave with a degree, but with a significant financial burden lifted from their shoulders.


The gift could not have come at a better time. According to a recent Forbes article, “the latest student loan debt statistics for 2019 show how serious the student loan debt crisis has become for borrowers. . .  There are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone (Friedman, 2019).”


Although it was noted that this crisis exists across demographics and age groups, African Americans face an especially difficult time paying off student debts. Ben Miller, the vice president of Secondary Education with the Center for American Progress found, “Bachelor’s degree completion does not insulate African American borrowers from bad outcomes (2017).” He further argues that student loans and postsecondary education cannot solve structural issues related to racial discrimination.


Using the word “crisis” seems appropriate; especially considering student loans is the middle child of consumer debt. Number one is mortgage debt and coming in after student loans are credit cards and auto loans. To give a broader picture of the challenge to repay loans, statistics reveal more than 11 million borrowers’ loans are in deferment, forbearance, or default.


Thankfully, Mr. Smith’s estimated gift of $40 million, will keep Morehouse’s graduating seniors from falling prey to the ongoing challenge to pay off their debts. After the astonishing message, Mr. Smith left his class with one request, “. . . pay this forward. Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of own community.”

I think that’s a simple enough request.






Friedman, Zack. (February 25, 2019). Student loan debt statistics in 2019: A $1.5 trillion crisis. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/02/25/student-loan-debt-statistics-2019/#1eb29d2e133f


Marino, Jonathan. (October 2, 2015). The incredible life of private equity titan Robert Smith, the 268th wealthiest American.  https://www.businessinsider.com/ex-goldman-sachs-tech-dealmaker-robert-smith


Miller, Ben. (October 16, 2017). New federal data show a student loan crisis for African American borrowers. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/news/2017/10/16/440711/new-federal-data-show-student-loan-crisis-african-american-borrowers/


Phillips, Kelly. (May 19, 2019). More good news for Morehouse grads: They likely won’t owe taxes on gift from billionaire. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2019/05/19/billionaire-robert-f-smith-promises-to-pay-off-student-debt-worth-millions/#5191aa8359f5


Student Loan Hero. (February 4, 2019). A look at the shocking student loan debt statistics for 2019. https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/




About the author: Latanya Muhammad is an advisor, group facilitator and freelance writer.  Her writing has appeared on Reality Moms, Her View From Home, Blunt Moms, Mamapedia, and marriage.com.  When she is not writing, she is wrangling her two children and husband.  To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook and Instagram.


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