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Billionaire pledges to pay student debt of 2019 class

GENEROUS: Robert F Smith (Screengrab: Morehouse College/YouTube)

A BILLIONAIRE has surprised graduates at a historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia, by pledging to pay off all their student loan debt.

Tech investor Robert F Smith, one of the most well-known black philanthropists in the US, made the announcement during his address at Morehouse College, an all-male higher education institution that counts Martin Luther King Jr among its alumni.

Thanks to Smith’s generosity, around 400 students will be student loan debt free. The cost to Smith is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars.

Smith, 56, who received an honorary doctorate at the graduation ceremony, is the founder and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners.

“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,” Smith told those gathered at the graduation ceremony.

He said: “This is my class 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

The staff and students were visible shocked and in disbelief at Smith’s announcement. Then moments later they erupted into cheers and applause.

Smith added: “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward.

“And let’s make sure every class has the same opportunities going forward. Because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream. And we will show it to each other through our actions, and through our words and through our deeds.”

One 22-year-old graduate told the Associated Press that he could now delete a spreadsheet he had drawn up to calculate how long it would take to pay off his $200,000 student loan.

Aaron Mitchom, a finance major, said it would take him 25 years if he allocated half of his salary to pay it back.

“I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off,” Mitchom said.

In addition to paying off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 class, Smith also made a $1.5 million donation to the college.

Actress Angela Bassett also received an honorary degree at the ceremony.

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