Robert F. Smith

ATLANTA (AP) — A billionaire technology investor and philanthropist says he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College - an estimated $40 million.

Robert F. Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta.

"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we're gonna put a little fuel in your bus," Smith told the graduates. "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."

The announcement elicited stunned looks from faculty and students alike, before the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning.

Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school. The pledge to eliminate student debt for the class of 2019 is estimated to be $40 million.

Smith said he expected the recipients to "pay it forward" and said he hoped that "every class has the same opportunity going forward."

Tonga Releford's son, Charles Releford III, is a member of the Class of 2019. She estimated his student loans are about $70,000, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I feel like it's Mother's Day all over again," she said.

Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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