Memphian Morehouse graduates plan to give back after billionaire pays off their student loans

Morehouse grads give back

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Sunday, the richest African American in the United States gave students at Morehouse College a surprise gift at their graduation ceremony.

Billionaire investor Robert Smith announced that he paying off all of their student loans debt during his commencement speech at the historically black college.

Memphians are among the class of 2019 who say they are grateful and plan to use the opportunity to give back.

"The entire audience kind of had this moment of... did he just say what I think he said?," Morehouse graduate Mark Daniel Shelton said.

Experts estimate the gift will cost Smith between $10 and $40 million.

Khalil Downey grew up in Memphis and was recently hired by Shelby County Schools -- he owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

"Tens of thousands for me and including parents plus easily over $100,000," Downey said.

Downey says he feels blessed because he was supposed to graduate in 2018, but had one class to finish, forcing him to graduate this year.

"A huge thank you thank you thank you Dr. Smith to you," he said.

Shelton interned in Memphis last summer at the Federal Reserve Bank.

He says the graduation gift is allowing him to make his move to California for a job with Google with a clean slate.

"Truly it's a historic moment, socially, personally," Shelton said.

These two graduates say they and their nearly 500 classmates are motivated to pay this generosity forward.

"Giving back to my alma mater, supporting HBCU's, supporting financially disadvantaged students across the country and students of color," Shelton said.

“More than driven to go out and pay it forward and do the same thing and if they’re not I know I am,” Downey said.

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