Billionaire Robert F. Smith pays off grads’ student loans in his commencement address

Low-profile private equity billionaire and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, served as the commencement speaker at Morehouse College, a historically black university for men on Sunday, May 19. He spoke on the topics of continuing racial inequality in the US, his career starts as a chemical engineer and investment banker at Goldman Sachs before eventually starting his own private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners. Most empathically, he spoke of the importance of community – before jolting the graduates out of their chairs with the most surprising and heartwarming news of the weekend.

“This is my class, 2019, and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” he said. After a moment of slight confusion at what had just happened, the nearly 400 graduates roared and jumped out of their seats.

Smith has a history of philanthropy but is famously low-key about it. He is known to avoid interviews and publicity and lives quietly in Austin, TX with his former Playboy-model wife, Hope Dworaczyk Smith.

Smith was a major donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, according to the Washington Post, donating $20 million before opening (Oprah pledged $21 million.)

In 2016, he donated $50 million to his alma mater, Cornell University, for its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, as well as for support for black and female engineering students.

Smith said he knew the recipients of his generosity at Morehouse would pay it forward. “We are enough to take care of our community,” he said. “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 our words and our deeds.”

Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a park.

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