On Sunday, May 20th Morehouse College commencement speaker Robert F. Smith made news by committing to pay off all student loans for the entire graduating class. Morehouse is a historically black, all-male liberal arts college located in Atlanta, Georgia. Its 2019 class is made up of 396 students, who combined owe between $10 and $40 million in student loans.
Smith’s extraordinary act of generosity has set the world on fire and sparked a debate on how to improve college affordability for all. I felt privileged to be present as he made history. I am a 1994 Morehouse College graduate and attended commencement as part of my 25th reunion weekend as chair of our class reunion committee.
What an amazing reunion weekend I celebrated with my classmates. The legendary class of 1994 now holds the record for the largest reunion contribution made in school history. We established a new fundraising bar that we challenge other reunion classes to meet, and ourselves to raise. We also broke attendance records, registering the most classmates of any reunion class. The weekend provided me the opportunity to reflect on my experience at Morehouse and the gifts the college experience provided me.
A place to discover who I was. Morehouse provided me a place where I could earn a top-notch education and grow into manhood without the noise associated with living as a black man in America. I attended a predominantly white, suburban high school and had a positive experience with good friends, but I also battled stereotypes that left me frustrated. At Morehouse, black achievement was the norm, not a perceived exception. The legendary Morehouse class of 1994 represents the smartest, most talented collection of black men I have ever known. Morehouse provided us the nurturing space to grow into manhood together. I was deeply moved at our reunion class meeting on Saturday to hear my classmates, one by one, introduce themselves, share their accomplishments and demonstrate their commitment to giving back.
A path to professional success. Morehouse has long had a reputation as a top feeder school to the most prestigious graduate programs across all fields of study. Beginning in the late ’80s, Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH drove top investment banks, consulting firms and Fortune 500 companies to recruit at Morehouse. Benjamin P. McLaurin, Director of Career Counseling & Placement at the time, successfully built relationships with these firms. Companies showed up on campus looking to interview top students and I benefited from all of this. This created my first job opportunity in strategy consulting, which led to Harvard Business School, and a fulfilling 20+ year business career in which I am still growing professionally. Many of my classmates can share similar stories.
Lifetime brotherhood. Morehouse is the ultimate brotherhood. My closest friendships in life are with other Morehouse Men. Brotherly bonds during our college years formed early, as freshman dorms came together to prepare for the legendary Morehouse freshman step show. It was fun to hear my classmates at reunion, after 25 years, still passionately debating why they believed their freshman dorm should have won the show. Brotherly bonds continued to grow through our participation in extracurricular activities at the college. My closest friendships were formed through four years I spent performing across the country with the Morehouse College Glee Club. Catching up with my glee club brothers was a wonderful highlight of my reunion weekend.
I want the Morehouse experience I benefited from to be attainable to all deserving young men who are admitted. A big challenge to this is financial. According to Morehouse President Dr. David Thomas, only 2% of African American families can afford to send their children to college out of pocket, unaided without loans.
Dr. Thomas has a powerful vision for making Morehouse accessible to our nation’s best and brightest black men, whether they can afford the tuition or not. To realize this vision, he is launching an ambitious capital campaign. Robert F. Smith’s financial contribution to the college and the class of 2019 represents an important step toward realizing President Thomas’s vision but it cannot be fully realized without alumni support.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the 10 colleges and universities with the highest percentages of undergraduate alumni donors achieved an average giving rate of 52%. Morehouse alumni currently give at a 17% participation rate. We must do better. President Thomas has challenged us to double our alumni giving rate within the next 2–3 years.
This is why I am committed to giving back to the college and why I encourage my classmates and all Morehouse Men to give. I will have my sons ready for Morehouse. I am also committed to making sure that Morehouse is ready for them and all of the other talented black men looking for a place to be nurtured into leaders who give back to make this world a better place.
To the legendary class of 1994, thank you for an incredible reunion. Until we meet again. Please give here: morehouse.getyams.com/1994
Morehouse College, bless her name.