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Robert Smith Jr. Shocks Morehouse College Graduates

Robert F. Smith Jr.

Robert F. Smith, left, laughs with David Thomas, center, and actress Angela Bassett at Morehouse College.Bo Emerson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

It has been a phenomenal graduating season for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Every year at this time, these campuses come alive with tired but excited students and university faculty and staff who have worked hard to get their graduates ready.  Stages overflow with administrators wearing vivid academic regalia reflecting the colors of their disciplines and cords, hoods and bars reflecting their accomplishments.  The stages welcome special guests to be recognized for service to community and society with honorary doctoral awards.  Commencement speakers show up to help give the graduates that one last motivational lecture designed to help them hurdle that big transition from college to real work.

Through this commencement season some of those receiving honorary doctorates include Reverend Al Sharpton from Medgar Evers College, James Prince recognized by Texas Southern University and Sonia Sanchez, poet and activist, recognized by Spelman College

All that is good news. 

Morehouse College graduates showed up today at their commencement expecting more of the same.

Then the great news happened.

Robert F. Smith Jr., technology leader, philanthropist and one of the few Black billionaires in the world, stepped up at Morehouse College ceremony to give a commencement speech and receive an honorary doctoral degree.  Yes, Mr. Smith came to the stage as commencement speaker and honorary doctorate recipient, but he left the stage as a benefactor, pledging a grant to eliminate the student debt of the entire Morehouse College class of 2019.

To say the very least, Mr. Smith is a giver.

Before his generous gift to the Morehouse Men of 2019, he had pledged $50 million to Cornell University, his own alma mater, $20 million to the African American Museum and a $1.5 million gift to Morehouse College earlier in January 2019.

My hope is that his generosity incites rampant action among others of means.

When I say means, I am not assuming that only those of tremendous wealth can give back to the mission of these HBCU institutions that were built to educate the forgotten, the overlooked and the aspirant professionals who could go nowhere else.   I am thinking of the Morehouse Class of 2019 and beyond.  In fact, I am thinking of the entire graduating HBCU class of 2019.  I am sure there are many of the graduates who had not heard of Robert F. Smith Jr. before today.  Well now they have and now they see that kind of generosity, I hope they think about what is possible with the hard work, risk taking and innovative thinking exercised by Mr. Smith.  The saying is that to whom much is given, much is expected; and these Morehouse Men have been given much.   This opportunity of professional and personal growth without the encumbrances of college debt, should be the enabler of good things for all these Morehouse graduating students.

Many of us have given to these schools over the years and will continue to give.  I won’t lie, the significance of this gift does inspire me to look deeper though and think harder about what more I can do and where I can help beyond TheHBCUCareerCenter.com.

In conclusion, I want to say two things about the gift.

First, take note that Mr. Smith did not graduate from a HBCU.  I have often said to people who questioned my giving to HBCUs, that one does not need to suffer from diabetes to give to diabetes research.   I hope this encourages others to see value in these institutions and see them as the engine that drove economic uplift for the Black middle class in America.  Second, please note that Mr. Smith gave a smaller gift to Morehouse in January 2019.  He must have been satisfied with the relationship with the administrators thus far to take this next step.  I am not sure how the gift will be administered, but nevertheless, it certainly demonstrates confidence in the Morehouse mechanism to develop diverse professionals.  As someone who is always thinking about the workforce and professional development angle, this gift could probably draw an even straighter line from the Morehouse campus to Silicon Valley.  All kinds of things are possible.

Yes; Giving begets giving and good stewardship of funds, encourages more giving.  Congrats again to the Morehouse Class of 2019 and know that we as a #HBCU community, are expecting good things from you.

We did before.

That just got amplified!

Dr. Marcia F. Robinson, Founder of TheHBCUCareerCenter.com (mrobin@thehbcucareercenter.com)

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This entry was posted in Career and Industry Awareness, Employment Trends, First Year on the Job, HBCU Career Programs, Leadership, Life After College, STEM Careers. Bookmark the permalink.

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