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Robert F. Smith
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Gee: Why Robert F. Smith was just elevated beyond other billionaires

Robert Smith speaks onstage, December 8, 2015 in New York City. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for RFK Human Rights)

I tried to name as many billionaires as I could. Bezos, Buffet, Gates, Walton, Winfrey, and Koch. Robert F. Smith is a name I would have never came up with.

Truth is, there’s an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist by the name of Robert F. Smith, and before he did what he did this past weekend, I had never heard of him. Now he’s a household name.

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Smith was the honored guest commencement speaker of Morehouse College’s graduating class of 396 students. This past weekend he surprised the graduates with a pledge to pay off the entire student loan debt of the graduating class of 2019. In January of this year, he donated a $1.5 million gift to the school.

So he has proven to be a generous man. But this act — paying off the student loan debt of an entire graduating class — still has me speechless. Why he did this has blown me away.

According to some close to Robert F. Smith, he had his commencement speech made three or four days out. In it, his speech was going to talk about empowerment and the responsibility of uplifting a community. When he got to the school, however, he found out something that alarmed him — that 60 percent of students at Morehouse University who don’t graduate, don’t graduate due to lack of finances and not grades. So after finding this out, he decided to change lives for generations to come.

This gift will probably cost him tens of millions of dollars, or more. In itself, it is a pretty amazing thing to do. Many of these students were the first of their families to graduate from college. They can now eneter the job market and start their careers without being shackled by student loan debt that haunts many adults well into their 30s, 40s, and sometimes into their 50s.

A four year tuition can cost more than $100,000 at Morehouse. Not to mention books, housing, meals, and other expenses. This is money these students can put toward buying their first home, or take their education even further.

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This gift from Smith won’t just affect this class, but classes to follow. It will even impact the sons and daughters, and grandchildren of these graduates. It might even inspire other people of wealth to follow his example, and make similar contributions at other schools.

Lately our world is full of stories of greed, hate, and disappointment, but stories like this help restore a little more faith in tomorrow. This act of kindness deserves our applause, it deserves our praise, and Robert F. Smith deserves our sincere gratitude.

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