Student debt is the leading cause of depression among college graduates. Okay, I totally made that up, but it’s sort of true and it usually begins when young adults leave home in pursuit of higher education. But what if someone came along and offered to wipe your student debt clean?
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, nearly 400 graduating seniors at Morehouse College—a private, all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia—were caught off-guard when Billionaire Robert F. Smith, technology investor and philanthropist, announced that he and his family had agreed to provide a grant (worth up to $40 million) to eliminate student loans for the entire Class of 2019.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” said Smith during his commencement address on Sunday.
“This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.”
Smith, who received an honorary doctorate at Morehouse College, went on to say that the bus towards success isn’t always enough.
“You want to own it, you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way.”
There’s only one catch. In exchange for paying off their student loans (one of which was for $100,000), Smith challenged the Class of 2019 to do their part to improve the lives of black America.
“Don’t sit around and wait for someone to anoint you ready for the next challenge. Don’t wait your turn,” he said. “Bet on yourself and have the confidence to stand up and say, ‘my time is now.’”
Though some are already lined up to pull the good guy cape off Smith’s back for taking advantage of new taxation laws, many of us are simply awestruck, wondering what would happen if 396 young black men chose to use this gift to pay it forward.
Imagine the domino effect that kindness could have on a community that’s rich in poverty, resentment and hardship. Instead of questioning Smith’s motive, critics should focus on monitoring the recipients to see how they handle themselves in the future.
Let’s face it: everyone is happier when they are debt-free. What if these students do more than just pass the buck? What if their fuel ignites possibility?