On Sunday, May 19 the Graduating Class of Morehouse College listened to their commencement speaker as he gave their commencement address. I am certain many of the students, parents, faculty and guests that were assembled for the commencement exercises were ready for the playing of Pomp and Circumstance and to head out to their own graduation celebrations. But imagine their surprise when the commencement speaker billionaire investor, Robert F. Smith, announced during his commencement speech that he would pay off the student loan debt for the historically black college's graduating class.
"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," he told the newly minted graduates in Atlanta before saying his family was creating a grant to eliminate their student loans.
The announcement was met with a standing ovation and chants of "MVP!" "Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward," he continued. "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 because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream."
The 56-year-old Smith was a chemical engineer for Goodyear and Kraft before attending business school. He worked for Goldman Sachs, specializing in technology investments, before starting Vista Equity in 2000. Vista Equity invests solely in software, data, and technology companies and boasts capital commitments of $46 billion, the company's website says.
Smith has quite the generous streak. In 2016, Cornell University, one of his alma maters, renamed its chemical and biomolecular engineering school in honor of the Austin, Texas, investor after he committed to donating $50 million to the school. He has also donated millions to cancer research and the arts.
His Fund II Foundation provides grants under five pillars: preserving the African-American experience, safeguarding human rights, conserving the environment, providing music education and sustaining "critical American values such as entrepreneurialism," the organization says.
In 2017 Smith signed the Giving Pledge, an effort spearheaded by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to convince wealthy Americans to give away half of their fortunes. In signing the pledge, Smith said he would focus on causes that support equality for black Americans and the environment.
He wrote – “I will never forget that my path was paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African-Americans whose names I will never know," Smith said. "Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve. My story would only be possible in America, and it is incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward."
We are thankful for philanthropists and generous people who are generous with the resources and wealth that they have been blessed to earn and share. Hospitals, Colleges, Homes for Children, Homes for the Elderly, Clinics, Daycare Centers for the Young and the Old, and a wide array of Community Services are just a few of the Philanthropic ventures that have been and continue to be funded because of the generosity of the people called United Methodists.
What if we lived our faith both inside and outside the church walls, serving our neighbors and those around the World by sharing generously to meet the needs of our world?
What if we put our beliefs into action and created systemic change- economic, political, cultural and social change - that could transform the lives of others?
What if the people who are called by God’s name actively pursued the call of generosity?
In the Gospel of Matthew –
Matthew 6:9-13 (RSV)
9 Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread;
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
What if...we lived into the Lord’s Prayer every day? How different would we be? How different would our world be?
If I understand what the Apostle Paul is saying in the second epistle to the Corinthians, and the Radical Grace offered by God through Jesus Christ, then I have to ask, why aren’t we as United Methodists doing the same today?
The history of the people called Methodist – is a history replete with stories of extraordinary
and extravagant sacrificial giving. Robert Smith’s gift of “eliminating the student debt” for the graduating class of Morehouse is certainly a remarkable act of generosity. Included in his pledge to the graduates was an invitation for the graduates, who were the recipients of an amazing gift, to join him in “paying it forward” for future Morehouse Alumni. He reminded the now “debt free” graduates that – “We are Enough...”
I close with the words from one of my favorite hymns and a GOOD WORD from Ephesians – Let All the World in Every Corner Sing –
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and king! The heavens are not too high, His praise may thither fly, The earth is not too low, His praises there may grow. Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and king!
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and king!
The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out; But, above all, the heart must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and king!
I pray a gracious response to God’s amazing Grace. Thank God that God’s Love, Mercy and Grace are for ALL.
See you in the place where ALL are Welcomed and Accepted as we seek to have open, hearts, minds and doors and seek to practice generosity of life and living!
Shalom, Robert ><>