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That Moment When ... Morehouse Grad Hears His $80K In Student Loans Will Get Paid Off

The buzz is still settling-down from billionaire Robert F. Smith's stunning announcement during his commencement address on Sunday to the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College — a historically black, all-male college in Atlanta.

"We're gonna put a little fuel in your bus," Smith said during his speech. "Now, I've got the alumni over there – this is a challenge to you alumni – this is my class, 2019 – and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."

Among the graduates who heard Smith's jaw-dropping declaration was Andrew Garrett. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science and a hefty dose of student debt. Garrett is from Atlanta, but moved to Charlotte a month-and-a-half ago to take a job with a global professional services company.

He spoke with "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey.

Mark Rumsey:Andrew, hi there and congratulations on your graduation.

Andrew Garrett:Thanks, I really appreciate that. Thank you for your time. Please bear with me — I lost my voice during graduation, so I'm trying to get that back.

Rumsey:I can imagine. So when Robert Smith said those words he said, "My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans. Your student loans among them." Did it register with you right away?

Garrett:To be honest with you, it did. It kind of did. I was like, OK, well let me look around to see if everybody else heard the same thing I heard and make sure I'm not hearing things. You know, seeing the crowd just in shock and awe and everybody's excited — I was completely caught off guard.

Rumsey:And Andrew, are you willing to say how much student debt you do have right now?

Garrett:Mine was somewhere around the $80,000 range.

Rumsey:About $80,000 total in student loan debt that you would be coming out of college with, right?

Garrett:That's right. About $80,000, $90,000 in student loans.

Rumsey:So this news — I mean how does it change the outlook for you?

Garrett:So coming here I kind of came with a budget amount, saying OK, this is what I'll allocate toward my savings, this is what I'll allocate toward my investment, toward housing and so on and so forth. Now, I'm having to readjust this budget because I took into consideration paying back the student loans and being more proactive in that regard.

Now, I can really allocate those extra funds toward investing — which can essentially just better prepare me and give me a more solid foundation going forward in life. And this will also have a domino effect for not just my generation, but you know my children who are coming after me, and so on and so forth.

Rumsey:And Andrew, you mentioned your parents. How are they reacting to this?

Garrett:Well, my parents were at the graduation and they explained to me that when the news was first released, they actually didn't hear. And so it was actually my uncle — who was also standing around — he heard. He heard immediately and he walked over to my parents and he was like, hey, did you hear the news? He was like, well Drew will be graduating with no student loans. The commencement speaker just announced that he's paying off [the loans of] everyone that belongs to the Class of 2019.

And my parents were in awe. They were in shock. Especially my biological mother and my stepmother, those two were the ones who actually took the bulk of this deal alone that allowed me to matriculate through Morehouse College.

Rumsey:So you're saying they were in the audience, but it didn't register right away. The mind sometimes does have a tendency to wander during these graduation ceremonies.

Garrett:Yeah, especially the relatively longer graduation ceremonies. But yes.

Rumsey:Andrew, is there anything else that you'd like to share after this very big weekend for you?

Garrett:Absolutely. I'm a firm believer of giving is greater than to receive, right? I definitely want to continue to pay it forward. I definitely want to continue to see my brothers and others around me — and just anyone in general — just consider giving back and helping someone else out because no successful person has ever made it alone. It's always with the help of at least one other person.

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