Billionaire Robert F. Smith gave Morehouse scholars the ultimate graduation gift when he vowed to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019.
The technology investor, who received an honorary doctorate from the HBCU, made the surprise announcement during the institution’s Sunday morning commencement. The gift has been estimated to be worth up to $40 million.
“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,” he said during his speech. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
Want to learn more about the businessman? Here are five things you should know.
He began his career in technology as a teenager.
Smith, who grew up in Denver, developed an interest in the tech field in high school. When he was a junior, he landed an internship at Bell Labs by calling the company every week for five months until he got a position, according to The Washington Post. During his summer and Christmas breaks, he worked on computers.
“I got hooked on technology,” he told the publication in a 2016 interview. “The excitement of figuring a complex problem out creates a eureka moment. It’s one of the best moments in life.”
Smith is an Ivy League graduate.
Smith earned his degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University, where he became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He later snagged his master of business administration degree from Columbia Business School in 1994.
He’s topped the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires.
The investor, who now lives in Austin, is the nation’s richest black man, according to Forbes. He’s worth approximately $5 billion. The 56-year-old made his fortune through the private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners, which he founded in 2000. According to the company’s website, Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of more than $46 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 50 software companies
Before launching Vista, he worked an investment banking job at Goldman Sachs for several years, where he worked on tech mergers and acquisitions for brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay and Yahoo.
The philanthropist has made several major donations throughout his career.
Before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, he pledged a $20 million gift to the facility, according to the Smithsonian. The donation has allowed the attraction to become a hub to archive photographs from institutions like other museums, funeral homes and more.
In 2016, he, along with the Fund II Foundation, gifted Cornell University with $50 million for its chemical and biomolecular engineering school.
And ahead of his graduation speech at Morehouse, he donated $1.5 million to the school for scholarships and a new park.
He’s a husband and father.
In 2015, he married Hope Dworaczyk. John Legend, Seal and Brian McKnight reportedly sang at their wedding.
Dworaczyk is a model, TV host and reality television personality. The 34-year-old is the host and co-producer for “Inside Fashion,” a series on Canada’s E! network. She’s also made appearances on “The Celebrity Apprentice” and Fox’s “The Choice.”
The couple has two sons together. Hendrix Robert Smith was born in 2014 and Legend Robert Smith was born in 2016. Their names pay homage to two of Smith’s favorite musicians, The Washington Post said. He also reportedly has three other children from a previous marriage.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.