On Sunday, the graduating students at historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, got a pleasant surprise and the day was a day of joy and pride. The new graduating class was told by Robert F Smith, an African-American businessman with a fortune estimated at $4.4 billion that he is planning to contribute the whole sum of their student debt which is an estimated $40 million.

Smith received a thunderous round of applause from the 400 graduates as well as from their parents. As per the college’s Twitter account, Smith told them, “My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans”.

Smith was present there to receive an honorary degree where he said, “This is my class”. “I know my class will pay this forward” and help improve the lives of other black Americans.

Earlier this year, Smith had declared a $1.5 million donation to the school. According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the news of Sunday was a surprise to staff at Morehouse. A spokesman said it was the biggest gift in the history of the school, whose graduates include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Samuel L Jackson.

Elijah Dormeus, an important businessman told the reporters, “If I could do a backflip, I would, I am deeply ecstatic.” According to him, he has  $90,000 in student debt. His mother, Andrea Dormeus, is a school bus driver in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.

In 2002, Smith established Vista Equity Partners and in 2015 he became the richest African-American, according to Forbes magazine. Smith completed his graduation from Cornell and Columbia universities.

In recent years, the rising costs of college education and the climbing number of defaults became a national issue which was addressed by many of the Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination. According to the Fitch ratings agency, the total student debt now exceeds $1.5 trillion.

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