Morehouse College student's $100,000 debt wiped out, thanks to billionaire

A Morehouse College student no longer has to worry about his $100,000 debt thanks to the generosity of an African American billionaire businessman, according to USA Today

Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major, could not believe his ears when Robert F. Smith, an investor and philanthropist and, notably, the wealthiest black man in the United States, told the Class of 2019 that he would cover all of their student loans. 

"It was surreal," Dormeus told the paper. "I was so ecstatic. I just jumped up and started yelling, 'Yes, Robert! Speak!'"

Dormeus, one of nine children, says he was raised by a single mother in New York after his father died when he was just seven years old. His family struggled financially, even during his college years. Every year, Dormeus would take out loans, apply for grants and scholarships and work in AT&T's sales department. 

Still, the Morehouse graduate said he never pitied his mother for not being able to sufficiently provide for him or his siblings. 

"We never knew we were lacking," he said. "Our mom always told us, 'You can do anything you put your mind to.'"

Now, Dormeus can focus his attention on something other than his loans. On Sunday, Smith stunned nearly 400 students, including Dormeus, when he announced during his commencement speech that he would pay off tens of millions of dollars in college 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 said. "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 debt." 

The only condition is that Morehouse' latest graduates pay it forward, Smith said to the delight of the crowd. 

Smith founded investment firm Vista Equity in 2000 and has a net worth of $5 billion, CNN reports. The firm invests in "specialty software products, enterprise software ... data and technology-enabled business services and technology-enabled information services," among other things, according to Bloomberg. Smith's career also includes previous stints at Goodyear, Kraft and Goldman Sachs. 

Following the billionaire's announcement, many praised him for his selflessness. 

"Wow," Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter Bernice King tweeted. "What a love-power move by Robert Smith. I believe it's the start of something major. I'm grateful for what Mr. Smith, who purchased my father's birth home for the National Park Service, is doing for @Morehouse, which happens to be Daddy's alma mater."

Critically acclaimed director Spike Lee also chimed in on Instagram

"[Shout] Out to Robert F. Smith," Lee wrote. "He Is The Wealthiest African American Ever. Yesterday As The Commencement Speaker At Morehouse College, He Donated 40 Million Dollars To Pay The Student Loans Of The Graduating Class Of 2019. God Bless You And God Bless Dear Old Morehouse, Spike Lee Class Of ‘79."

Smith's generosity comes at a time when historically black colleges like Morehouse are struggling to balance decreasing enrollment with an uptick in operating costs, Vox notes. Some of these institutions, which have largely contributed to the growth of the black middle class, are at risk of losing their accreditation, in part due to smaller endowments they receive compared to other four-year colleges. 

Smith said during his address on Sunday that he hopes that Morehouse's 2019 graduates will ensure that others can have the same access to the education they received. 

"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," he said. 

Dormeus, who plans to honor that promise, said that he will continue to work at AT&T full-time to help pay the college costs for his younger brother, a high school junior who also hopes to attend Morehouse. 

"I want to pay it back in ways we haven’t yet seen," Dormeus told USA Today. "Robert Smith has done that. He’s set the tone."

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