BOSTON (CBS) – Two young men from Boston were among the hundreds of Morehouse College graduates whose student debt was wiped out Sunday thanks to their billionaire commencement speaker. Robert Smith is the founder and CEO of a private equity firm. According to Forbes magazine, he’s worth an estimated $5 billion.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus… My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” Smith said.
The $40 million donation was met with shock and confusion from the class of 2019 audience.
“To be honest I really thought it was a joke,” said Duby Maduegbunam. “I thought he was pulling our leg; he’d say just kidding.”
Maduegbunam, a film major from a single-parent home in Roxbury, told CBS Boston he feels like he hit the lottery. The gift is a leg up in life for him and his class of nearly 400 students.
“I had about $60,000 of student loans. That announcement was the biggest blessing,” said Azariah Rice from Mattapan.
As the jealous phone calls pour in from Morehouse students past and future, Rice feels the freedom to really pursue his goals as an athletic trainer.
“It was definitely a moment I’ll cherish for my entire life… Without that debt, I’m able to explore other business ventures and opportunities. I can really dig deep in my (kinesiology) major and become the best Morehouse man I possibly can become,” he said.
Smith challenges the class of 2019 to pay it forward, and for other Morehouse graduates to offer similar opportunities to future classes of the historically-black Atlanta school.