A Morehouse graduate whose student debt was eliminated by billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert Smith is determined to pay it forward.
During the May 19 commencement ceremony, Smith, who was the keynote speaker, surprised the class of 2019 with a $40 million grant to pay off all of their loans.
"On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're gonna put a little fuel in your bus," said Smith, who is worth an estimated $5 billion. "This is my class, 2019, and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
Among the 400 graduating seniors was Dwytt Lewis, a Compton native who was stunned by Smith’s generosity.
"Just imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders when you have a clean slate coming out of college," Lewis told CBS News.
Lewis, 21, used to be homeless and sometimes didn’t know when he was going to have his next meal.
Tuition and other expenses at the all-male HBCU can total over $48,000 a year. For Lewis, he was prepared to graduate with $150,000 debt.
However, when Smith surprised the class with the grant, Lewis became overwhelmed with emotion.
“‘Wow, okay, I'm going into a few hundred thousand dollars in debt,' right? And then your last 30 seconds of being an undergrad student, someone tells you, 'I'm taking the burden of your student loan; go change the world,’” Lewis told CBS about the moment he learned the news.
Now Lewis is motivated to show Smith his investment was worth it.
"It's just an overwhelming feeling, in a good way," Lewis told CBS. "I'm so motivated to go change the world."
Lewis also said he hopes to help others in the same way as Smith.
"There is room for you in this world," Lewis said. "You can do what you want to do. You can follow your dreams. And I think that's where it starts. I think once you have that mindset of, 'I want to be impactful and I want to change the world,' I promise you that energy just transpires."
The only thing Smith expects from Lewis and the rest of the class is for them to "pay it forward" and give future classes the same opportunity.
Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000. Over the last 20 years, he turned the firm into a billion-dollar enterprise by investing in technology and software around the world.
(Photo: CBS News)
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