Morehouse grads already planning to pay it forward

Graduates react after hearing billionaire technology investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith say he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Students of the 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College were still in a daze Tuesday after billionaire Robert F. Smith pledged to pay off their student loans owed to the school. While the details were still to come on just how that would happen, students were feeling emotions ranging from relief to inspiration. Many of them were already thinking of ways to follow through on Smith’s request that they pay it forward. Here’s what some members of the graduating class had to say about the experience, the impact on their future and how they hope to make a difference.

Aaron Mitchom had a thought when billionaire investor Robert F. Smith began his commencement speech Sunday at Morehouse College. “I did the calculations and wondered what if this guy decided to pay my student loans,” Mitchom, a finance major, wondered during the ceremony held on the campus grounds.

Tears rolled down Mitchom’s cheeks when Smith made his surprise announcement that he would, as Mitchom hoped, pay the student loan debt for the entire graduating class. “Thank you, Jesus. I’m debt-free,” Mitchom, 22, from Gwinnett County, said aloud in the morning sun.

Mitchom’s student loans totaled $200,000, he said in a telephone interview. He said the first private student loan he took had an 11.85% compound interest rate. At the advice of classmates, Mitchom took out a federal loan in his second year at Morehouse.

Mitchom said his parents, grandmother, aunt, sister and brother-in-law all co-signed loans for him. “They all bet on me. That’s why it’s such a big blessing,” he said.

Mitchom, who earned his high school diploma from Grayson High School, said he planned to refinance his student loan after graduation. If all went well, Mitchom hoped his monthly loan payment would be $1,000 a month. His first loan payment is due in November, and he is now anxious for Morehouse to announce how Smith’s donation will be managed.

In the meantime, Mitchom is job hunting with some finance firms. He someday wants to start his own equity firm, like Smith did. “You do what I want to do. You look like me. There’s not many people in that world who look like me,” Mitchom said of Smith.

Mitchom’s plans to pay it forward include mentoring students and giving money back to Morehouse. “There’s no excuse why we can’t do that.”