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Debt relief a gift local Morehouse College graduates love
Philanthropist's gesture totally out of blue
 
Published Friday, June 7, 2019 11:16 am
by Sam Palian | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES
Billionaire Robert Smith pledged to pay off the debt of Morehouse College’s Class of 2019.

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Philanthropist Robert Smith put fuel in the futures of 2019 Morehouse College graduates Andrew Garrett and Julian Gaines.


Smith, the nation’s richest African American at an estimated worth of $4 billion, pledged to pay off the Class of 2019’s student debt in his “Bus No. 13” speech last month at the historically black, all-male school in Atlanta. Student debt is a burgeoning economic crisis in the United States, with nearly 45 million borrowers owing $1.5 trillion, trailing only mortgage debt as the largest consumer obligation.


“The level of shock, the level of surprise, the level for suspense… it was substantial to say the least,” said Garrett, who moved to Charlotte after graduation. “When he first said it, I believed what I heard, but I had to still look to my right, look to my left to see if other people heard the same thing I heard and make sure I’m not going crazy.”


Garrett, who would have left school with around $80,000 in debt, graduated with a consulting job at Accenture in Charlotte already lined up. He’s planning to pursue a doctorate degree, would love to start his own company one day and could see himself using his computer engineering background in a military capacity.


“Suppose you’re walking around and you have ankle weights or a cinder block, some weight tied around your waist, just kind of dragging you and wherever you go, you have that pull,” said Garrett. “That relief of having someone pay off your student loans, it allows you to move a little faster, to preserve some of your energies and some of your efforts.”


Marvin Ridge High School alum Gaines attended Morehouse with a full scholarship through the Stamps Foundation and wasn’t quite in the same boat as Garrett, but still grateful and many of his friends were looking at substantial debt.

“When I heard the announcement I was thinking about some of my closest friends who weren’t immediately going off into the workforce to make money because they were going to grad school or medical school,” said Gaines. “They already had debt so to think that myself along with 395 of my brothers are starting out on the same playing field is amazing.”


Many of the graduates took Smith words to heart and intend on continuing to pay it forward. The Class of 2019 is already giving back together by starting a book fund for the incoming freshman class.


“He put it on us to essentially pave the way,” Garrett said. “This is not something where he said ‘hey I’m going to give y’all this gift and that’s it, it’s nothing further.’ No, it’s like ‘I’m going to give you this gift that will in turn put you in a position where you’re able to give gifts going forward and that would in turn allow those recipients to continue to give and so you’re creating somewhat of a ripple effect or a domino effect. And so I hold myself to that challenge.”

The graduates were also challenged to consider their “buses of opportunity” and what helped get them where they are today. Garret and Gaines both consider Morehouse one of those vehicles and not just because a charitable billionaire pledged to pay off an entire class’s student debt.


“When you look at it as a whole, what he potentially did is create 400 black male millionaires in the world that could be the next Robert Smith because he eliminated probably the longest-lasting expense that they will have in their lives,” Gaines said. “I think what he potentially did is create generational wealth in hundreds of families.”


Whether a student was looking ahead to graduating with thousands of dollars in debt or already expecting a clean slate, instead of a mountain of debt, it’s the lesson they learned that would stick with them.


“What this really taught me is that no matter how far you go in life or where you go in life to always be reminded of like those instrumental people who got you to where you are and how you could potentially impact the life of someone else,” Gaines said.


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