Billionaire vows to pay grads' student loans in commencement speech

Billionaire graduation speaker pledges to pay Morehouse’s class of 2019 student debt

Smith, a billionaire tech investor and philanthropist, announced in his commencement speech at Georgia's Morehouse College that he was setting up a grant to wipe the graduating class's student debt.

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During his keynote graduation address on Sunday at the historically-black, all-male Atlanta college, Smith, the chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Vista Equity Partners, promised to pay off the student loans of the almost 400 graduates, a pledge estimated to cost him $40 million.

"My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans", Smith said.

Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement while addressing almost 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta.

Smith's announcement comes after he had already pledged $1.5 million to the school in part for student scholarships and new park on campus.

Smith received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony.

"We're just out here trying to graduate and people are out here trying to hate, but, you know, it's all good" graduate Ethan Godfrey said. More than 7 million debtors are estimated to now be in default on payments.

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Billionaire Robert F. Smith is the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a technology investment firm.

The Journal-Constitution reported that the pledge to eliminate student debt for the 2019 class was estimated at $40m.

The announcement elicited the biggest cheers of the morning. He graduated from Cornell University and Columbia Business School and founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, according to 11Alive News. "We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream".

The 396 young men began the day as students in caps and gowns, ready to graduate from Morehouse College - full of hope, but burdened in most cases with the debts that financed their education.

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

He said he has $90,000 in student debt.

He pledged to give away half his net worth to causes that support equality for African Americans and protect the environment.

To The Washington Post in 2016, Smith noted his desire to get African Americans involved in computers and software, saying, "This is the first time in history you can create wealth and not have access to capital".

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