Investing In Futures
#stoutSHOUT to Robert F. Smith for showing how investment in people can be rocket fuel for their success and boost their opportunity to in turn “pay it forward” for others.
Robert F. Smith, this year’s Morehouse College commencement speaker, made and amazing announcement Sunday morning while addressing the graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. “On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith told the graduates. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
More than the money we make, the awards, or recognition, or titles we earn, each of us will be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us.
— Robert F. Smith, CEO at Vista Equity Partners
Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, an Austin-based private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies. He is the son of educators who started his career as a chemical engineer for Goodyear and Kraft. He attended business school at Columbia University and worked for Goldman Sachs before starting Vista Equity in 2000.
An Opportunity To “Pay It Forward”
“Potential is no guarantee of progress,” Smith wrote in an essay before his generous gesture. “We will only grasp the staggering potential of our time if we create on ramps that empower ALL people to participate, regardless of background, country of origin, religious practice, gender, or color of skin.” At the graduation, Smith said he expected the recipients to “pay it forward” in the hope that every class in the future can be gifted a similar opportunity.
Among the students, there was a hope to do just that. 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchum had drawn up a spreadsheet to see how long it would take him to pay back his student loans — 25 years at half his monthly salary, per his calculations. His mom Tina, who helped back his college financing, said “This means he can pay it forward and start closing the gap a lot sooner; giving back to the college and thinking about a succession plan for his younger siblings education.”
Morehouse College president David A. Thomas said the gift would have a profound effect on the students’ futures. “Many of my students are interested in going into teaching, for example, but leave with an amount of student debt that makes that untenable,” Thomas said in an interview. “In some ways, it was a liberation gift for these young men that just opened up their choices.”