Who Is Robert F. Smith? New Details On Billionaire Paying Off Morehouse College Class Of 2019's Student Loans

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Who Is Robert F. Smith? New Details On Billionaire Paying Off Morehouse College Class of 2019's Student Loans

When students gathered for the 2019 commencement ceremony at Morehouse College last Saturday, they expected to hear an inspiring speech from businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith. They did not expect to find out that he would be paying off all of their student loans. However, that was exactly what the billionaire told them he was going to do, asking on that they take the opportunity and pay it forward to help others. There were about 400 students in the 2019 graduating class at the all-male Historically Black College that combined had almost $40 million in debt. Smith's gift will be the largest ever made to a Historically Black College or University. 

Who is Robert F. Smith? Read on to learn all about him.

1. Business wiz

Smith grew up in Colorado, the son of two teachers. He went to college at Cornell University and then went to work as a biochemist at such companies as Air Products & Chemicals, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and later at Kraft General Foods as a chemical engineer. He held several international patents by the time he left that field. Later, he went on to get an MBA from Columbia University. He was hired on at Goldman-Sachs in 1994 and spent six years working on high-level tech mergers before leaving in 2000 to form his own private equity firm. 

Smith sent messages about the value of tenacity.

2. Vista Equity Partners

In 2000, Smith formed Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm, which currently has an estimated $46 billion in cumulative capital commitments, owns over 50 software companies and has 60,000 employees worldwide. Vista has an annualized rate of return of 22%, according to Forbes, and Smith himself is said to be worth over $5 billion.

Smith is the richest Black man in America.

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3. Philanthropy

Smith considers his awesome net worth to come with an awesome side of responsibility. He has signed the Giving Pledge, which was created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett and has signators promise to give at least half of their wealth to charitable causes during their lifetime. He has taken that responsibility seriously, giving $20 million to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and making sizable contributions to Columbia Univerity and Cornell University. He is also the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation, a foundation which has donated to Cornell, UNCF, National Park Foundation, Susan G. Komen and Global Wildlife Conservation, among others.

He is the president of the Fund II Foundation.

4. Breakthrough donation

In 2017, Celebrity Net Worth reported that Smith offered to pay for the education of 24 girls from the Chibok community in Nigeria, including the 21 who escaped from captivity by Nigeria's militant Islamist group, the Boko Haram. The girls had been kidnaped from their homes and schools in 2014 and held by the radicals for years in an attempt to use them to negotiate the release of Boko Haram prisoners being held by the government. Hundreds of the girls never escaped. Smith offered to pay for all the girls from the community to attend the American University of Nigeria (AUN). His offer included the bill for the girls' tuition, room and board and other related expenses. 

He has been praised by presidents.

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5. Morehouse

Smith was invited to speak at Morehouse and he was also being honored with an honorary degree from the highly regarded institution. The Washington Post reports that when he got up to address the graduating class he said: "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans." The students in the room were understandably stunned, looking around to see if they had really heard what they thought they were hearing. Smith went on to say: "Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward. I want my class to look at these [alumni], these beautiful Morehouse brothers, and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we care enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American Dream.”

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The donation will be the largest ever given to a Historically Black College or University.

6. Students inspired

"Just imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders when you have a clean slate coming out of college. It's just an overwhelming feeling, in a good way," said Dwytt Lewis, who graduated with a degree in business administration. Lewis, who was homeless when he was younger, owed more than $150,000 in student loans, according to CBS: "I'm so motivated to go change the world," he said after receiving this unprecedented gift. 

Lewis was once homeless.

The value of the gift will be about $40 million dollars and represents only a fraction of the total student debt Americans face. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.