FILE - Billionaire investor Robert Smith, second from left, is seen after pledging to pay off the student loan debt of the entire Class of 2019 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, May 19, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. (D. Moody/Reute...
FILE - Billionaire investor Robert Smith, second from left, is seen after pledging to pay off the student loan debt of the entire Class of 2019 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, May 19, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. (D. Moody/Reute...

VOA Learning English contributed to this report.

College and university commencement exercises, where graduates are awarded their diplomas for completing their studies, can be long, drawn out and sometimes boring. 
 
But many colleges strive to present inspiring or entertaining ceremonies, featuring well-known speakers who deliver wit and wisdom about the graduates' futures. The larger or more well-known the school, the more likely its commencement speaker will be popular or famous.  
  
The 2019 commencement season is no exception. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. Bill Nye "The Science Guy" will speak at Cornell University, also in upstate New York. 
 
Television personality and media mogul Oprah Winfrey spoke at Colorado College in Colorado Springs about the importance of serving the greater good.  

Oprah Winfrey arrives at THR's Empowerment in Ente

'You will lend a hand'
  
"The truth is, you cannot fix everything," Winfrey said. "But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand."  
 
Actor Kristen Bell spoke at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts commencement.    

FILE - Kristen Bell at The 2017 NBCUniversal Upfro

"When you respect the idea that you are sharing the Earth with other humans, and when you lead with your nice foot forward, you'll win, every time," said Bell. "It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow. … But I promise you, it will appear exactly when you need it."  
 
But few have gained as much attention as this year's speaker at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., one of the nation's historically black colleges and universities.  
  
Morehouse's 2019 commencement speaker was Robert F. Smith, founder of the investment company Vista Equity Partners and one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the United States.  
  
On May 19, Smith didn't just deliver a commencement speech — he announced to the nearly 400 Morehouse graduates that he would pay off their student loan debt.  

'A little fuel in your bus'
  
"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus," Smith said, followed by cheers from the crowd.  
  
The estimated cost of Smith's promise is $40 million. This is in addition to the $1.5 million he donated to Morehouse in January.  
  
"I don't have to live off of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches," said Aaron Mitchom, 22, who graduated with a degree in finance. "I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off."  
 
Mitchom told The Associated Press he had taken out $200,000 in student loans to pay for his education at Morehouse. Weeks before graduation, he had calculated how long it would take him to settle that debt: Twenty-five years if he paid half of his expected earnings every month. 
 
Student debt is a concern for many college students and their families. The U.S. central banking system, or Federal Reserve, reports that student loan debt reached a record high this year of $1.5 trillion.  
  
Smith had one request: He asked the Morehouse graduates to help others the way they had been helped and said he hoped that "every class has the same opportunity going forward."  
  
"Because we are enough to take care of our own community," Smith added. "We are enough to ensure that we have all the opportunities of the American dream. And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds."  

 

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