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'We Were Speechless': Robert F. Smith Pledges To Clear Morehouse Grads' Student Debt


Thousands of students graduated from colleges and universities this weekend. And many of them will get some nice presents - a gold pen, the latest smartphone, perhaps a car. Well, the graduates of Morehouse College, the historically black all-male institution in Atlanta, got an extra special gift at their commencement ceremony today from billionaire investor Robert F. Smith.


ROBERT F SMITH: We're going to put a little fuel in your bus. Now, I've got the alumni over there. And this is a challenge to you, alumni. This is my class - 2019.


SMITH: And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.


MARTIN: You heard that right. Smith announced that he would pay off the student loan debt for the entire graduating class of Morehouse. Kamal Medlock is a member of that class, and he is with us now.

Kamal, congratulations.

KAMAL MEDLOCK: Thank you, thank you. And you guys are welcome.

MARTIN: Tell me what it was like. I mean, you were sitting there and, you know, he was the graduating speaker. And it was - you know, it was awesome because Angela Bassett - you've had some nice speakers before. So when he made this announcement, like, what happened?

MEDLOCK: Right before he made the announcement, you know, we were all out there hot, you know, kind of ready to go. We were excited to have Mr. Smith speaking. But, you know, when you're out there in the sun and you've been up since 5:30 in the morning, you're kind of just ready to go home. So when he started his commencement speech, we did not know what to expect. And when he said those words, that he's going to challenge the alumni and he's going to accept our class, our graduating class, as his class and he was going to pay off all of our loans, all my classmates' mouths just dropped open. Like, we were speechless because you're graduating. And then, you know, you expect Sally Mae to call you six months after, but now it's different. You know, we're still talking about it. I have family members texting me, asking me if this is really true. And this is - it's just a wonderful thing. But we were shocked. You know, my class' mind my shocked.

MARTIN: What did this mean to you? Do you mind telling us a little bit of your personal business? Like, do you have loans?

MEDLOCK: Yeah, so I have loans. They're, you know, they're about - or around $80,000 between me and my mother. And before I graduated, she was talking to me about, you know, when you get a new job, you have to understand to put your loan - you got to start to calculate that into your everyday expenses because you're going to have to pay that. You know, they're going to want their money. And I remember just being, like, wow. Like, I got to pay this off. And it's just so much. And, you know, it's saying X amount of years until it's paid off. And now it would really help my mother out and me as well because, you know, both loans are in our names. And it's just - it's really going to make it easy for me to save and really invest my money in other areas in which I have passion for.

MARTIN: Like what? Like what were you planning to do when you graduated? Like, for example, what's your plan for after graduation?

MEDLOCK: After graduation, I received a full-time offer with National Cash Register. NCR is one of the oldest companies in America. And they are one of the first companies to make the cash register.

MARTIN: OK, so you're going to be working there.

MEDLOCK: And now...


MEDLOCK: Yes. And now - but I also own my own - have my own brand. And I created this brand to shine light on black and brown people by using T-shirts and clothing as a medium to tell our history because one thing my parents taught me is once you learn about yourself and who you come from, the more confident you are.

MARTIN: That's awesome. You sound so excited. You sound so excited.


MARTIN: (Laughter).

MEDLOCK: It's just unbelievable. I'm speechless.

MARTIN: Well, you clearly aren't speechless. So (laughter) you know what they say about Morehouse men.


MARTIN: You could talk to a Morehouse man, but you can't - what?

MEDLOCK: Oh, you can't tell them nothing. You can't tell them nothing. You can't tell them nothing.

MARTIN: There it is. OK. All right (laughter). Well, congratulations. That's Kamal Medlock, a member of the graduating class of 2019 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. And he has just learned just a short time ago that Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor, will be paying off the student loans for himself and every member of his class. We actually reached Kamal Medlock at his graduation reception.

Kamal, thanks so much for talking to us.

MEDLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST'S "TOUCH THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.