Billionaire to graduating students: I'll pay off your debt

Billionaire investor Robert E. Smith earned some stunned looks on Sunday during his commencement address at Morehouse College.

He told the graduating students he'd pay off their student debt.

"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country: We're going to put a little fuel in your bus," Smith sad.

He continued: "I've got the alumni over here. And this is a challenge to alumni. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."

The class at the all-male, historically African-American college erupted into cheers. Bernie King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., applauded the move and noted her father attended the Atlanta college.

RELATED: The most depressing student loan stories

The Most Depressing Student Loan Stories
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The Most Depressing Student Loan Stories

Charice is only a year out of college but she's $30,000 in debt and has no job prospects. "I'm sitting here living with my boyfriend and his family," she says. "It's pathetic. It really is."

Watch Charice's video here.

"I wish I hadn't gone to school," says Mark, who graduated in 2005 with degrees in psychology and music and $875 monthly payments on $80,000 worth of student loans. "I had to claim bankruptcy ... which of course did nothing to the student loans." (Student loan debt is nearly impossible to discharge through bankruptcy.)

Watch Mark's video here.

At 23, Katie will start paying off her $40,000 student loan in September -- with no job prospects on the horizon. "If I could turn back time I would consider not going to college," she says. "I could have started a job right away, worked my way up to management, and not be $40,000 in debt with interest growing every month."

Watch Katie's video here.

Sue has spent 20 years trying to pay back $29,000 in student loans that have more than doubled to $70,000. "It just started jumping in $5,000 increments every year or two," she says. "I put myself in this coffin, or straight jacket, of a situation unknowingly."

Watch Sue's video here.

"In just a few months I'm going to turn 62 years old," says William, who took out $44,000 in private loans to study psychology. "I've been attempting to pay back my student loan debt for 22 years ... I've worked at times four jobs to try to pay back the debt." He still has nearly  $130,000 to pay off.

Watch William's video here.

Architecture was Artie's dream career, but he's too busy working two jobs to pay off $207,000 in private student loans to find work in the field. "I'm paying as much as I can through interest-only payments and income-based repayment plans," he says. "[Monthly payments] would be $2,200 per month, which is basically another mortgage payment for me."

Watch Artie's video here.

When Nick was denied federal student loans, he took out a $30,000 Smart Option loan from private lender Sallie Mae. "I'm in a spot where I can't pay it off," he says. "I literally lose sleep thinking about ... if I didn't go to school, I'd probably be better off."

Watch Nick's video here.

The $85,000 in private student loans Hilary took out has ballooned to $350,000 thanks to an 8 percent variable interest rate. "I was denied the license to practice in my profession because of my student loans," she says. "I make $8.50 an hour as a cashier at ACE Hardware and I receive food stamps."

Watch Hilary's video here.

Paul sunk more than $120,000 into undergraduate and graduate studies in visual arts, but he has yet to find a job in his field. "I'm almost 30 and the monthly student loan payments are crippling me," he says. "I'll have the financial security to buy a car, buy a house, settle down and start a family when I'm in my 50s." He owes $150,000 today.

Watch Paul's video here.


"Wow," she tweeted. "What a love-power move by Robert Smith, I believe it’s the start of something major."

Tonga Releford, whose son Charles graduated on Sunday and who estimated his student loans totaled $70,000, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I feel like it's Mother's Day all over again"

Smith earned an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony.

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