Morehouse graduate from Harlem shares his relief, excitement after commencement speaker pays off student debt

Posted at 6:23 PM, May 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-20 18:23:53-04

As four years of academic accomplishments come to a close, what looms ahead of college graduates is the reality of a mounting burden of student loans and how to pay it all back. Nearly 400 Morehouse College graduates won’t have that worry.

In what came as a surprise to even the college’s own administration, billionaire Robert Smith, who is estimated to be worth $5 billion, announced he and his family would pay off the debt for the entire graduating class.

Harlem’s Elijah Dormeus said in one day the responsibility of paying off more than $94,000 suddenly vanished.

Dormeus’ father passed away when he was only 7 and, as one of nine children, he along with his siblings watched their mother struggle to make ends meet. So, when he got into Morehouse, Dormeus didn’t think it would happen and even when it did, paying for that education was a constant battle. Every semester, he said he worried about how he would pay for his tuition. He did it, he said, by applying for scholarships and taking out numerous loans.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, about 65% college seniors graduate with student loan debt. On average, borrowing almost $29,000. For John Burns, that debt is more than $30,000. Attending Morehouse was about legacy and continuing a tradition his father started when he graduated from the college in 1989. Today, instead of worrying, he can do what most graduates would like to do and that is focus on their future.

The exact amount Smith will contribute is still unclear.

Both Burns and Dormeus told PIX11 that there is no question what they’ll do now that their loans are being paid off. They plan to do exactly what Robert Smith urged them to do during his commencement address: pay it forward.