We’ve previously dubbed Conan O’Brien’s 2011 commencement address to graduates of Dartmouth College to be the best commencement address in the history of commencement addresses (sorry, Steve Jobs). And we’re not alone. But Conan just got one-upped. While his speech was not filled with laugh-out-loud funny humor as was Conan’s, the 2019 commencement address of Robert F. Smith at Morehouse College was filled with tears — from graduates, from their parents, and, as Conan would say, from “old people that just come to these things.” And why? Because in his speech delivered to graduates of the all-male, historically black college, the man who happens to be the richest black man in America vowed to pay off all of the student debt of each and every member of the graduating class.
A Commencement Speaker’s Remarkable Pledge
As Audra D.S. Burch and David Gelles report for The New York Times in a piece entitled “Morehouse College Graduates’ Student Loans to Be Paid Off by Billionaire,” “‘We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,’ Mr. Smith, dressed in academic regalia to receive an honorary doctorate, said near the end of his address on Sunday at the school’s 135th commencement service. He turned to Morehouse alumni in attendance and abruptly issued a challenge. ‘This is my class, 2019,’ he said, personally claiming the graduating seniors as his own. ‘And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.’ It seemed to take a moment for the immensity of what he had promised to sink in. Then the place erupted, as the senior class, all male and mostly African-American, shook hands and hugged one another in glee.”
A Commencement Speaker’s Pledge Can Inspire a Movement
Ivy Coach salutes Robert F. Smith for his extraordinary pledge, for offering a fresh financial start to each and every member of Morehouse College’s graduating class so they can begin their post-college lives unsaddled by debt. May his pledge inspire a wave of commencement speeches in the future in which speakers who happen to have the means make similar such vows. As Smith so powerfully said in his address, “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all of 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.”