Not even Morehouse knew the announcement was coming.
Addressing the college’s class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, a man who is richer than Oprah Winfrey, made a grand gesture straight out of the television mogul’s playbook.
“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he said Sunday morning, bringing the approximately 400 students in caps and gowns to their feet.
“This is my class,” he said.
In January, Smith, a billionaire, donated $1.5 million to the college to fund student scholarships and a new park on campus. He received an honorary degree from the university at the graduation Sunday.
The value of the new gift is unclear because of the varying amounts the students owe, but the money will be disbursed through Morehouse and will apply to “loans students directly have for their college education,” a representative for Smith said.
A private equity titan, Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000.
After making a fortune in software, he was named the nation’s richest African-American by Forbes. According to the financial magazine, Smith’s estimated net worth is $5 billion, making him richer than Winfrey, who previously held the title of the wealthiest black person.
Smith studied chemical engineering at Cornell University and finance and marketing at Columbia Business School, according to Vista Equity Partners. In recent years, he has made several high-profile philanthropic gifts.
For the students at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that costs about $48,500 per year to attend, the gift could be transformative.
In an interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tonga Releford, whose son Charles Releford III is a member of the Morehouse class of 2019, estimated that her son had about $70,000 in loans.
“I feel like it’s Mother’s Day all over again,” she said.