Before yesterday, I hadn’t heard much about African-American businessman, philanthropist, and investor, Robert F. Smith. However, today his name is firmly etched in my mind. When word of his unprecedented generosity to the 2019 Morehouse graduation class spread across television, radio, and social media, I was at first stunned, and then I began to smile. In fact, I have been smiling all day every time I think of his magnanimous gesture – pledging to pay off the college loans of each graduate.
Estimates are that this random act of kindness will cost him approximately 40 million dollars. What he hopes to receive in return may not be as quantifiable, but I suspect that without having a financial burden weighing down the newly minted college graduates that their dreams will be far more achievable. I could feel the surge of new energy among the graduates as they realized they would be graduating debt free, something none of them anticipated from their graduation speaker.
I was particularly moved by the story of the young man who had calculated that it would take him 25 years to pay off his $ 200,000. in college loans. Upon hearing Smith’s promise to eliminate his college debt, he was so overwhelmed that he simply sat down and cried. It is hard to imagine a 21-year-old burdened with that much debt to acquire a bachelor’s degree. It is unconscionable that he was even allowed to sign for loans of this magnitude. Sadly, his case illustrates why there needs to be a recasting of how higher education in this country is funded.
In the meantime, Robert Smith’s generosity is a challenge to other wealthy individuals. I hope his action motivates other groups or individuals to follow his lead. His philanthropy represents one step towards leveling the playing field for young people who are in desperate need of financial help to reach one of the first steps on the American ladder to success – a college degree. Not that everyone needs to complete a four-year college degree to become financially successful. Indeed, many new employment opportunities don’t require a college degree but do require advanced skill training which also comes at a cost.
It would be wonderful if the cost of education, no matter at what level was federally funded. In a country as wealthy as the United States, health care and education should be a right of citizenship. Until it is, I applaud the effort of Robert Smith to use his wealth to directly benefit the next generation.