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Controversy Swirls Around Billionaire Commencement Debt Relief

Headlines rocketed through social media after billionaire Robert F. Smith made an unprecedented announcement during his commencement speech in front of the Morehouse College graduating class of 2019. "My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans," Smith told the senior class. "You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity."

The momentous announcement generated plenty of buzz for the historically black, all male college. Plenty of jokes and memes predictably followed. (“’Are you free this time next year?’ asked the Class of 2020.”)

However, an undercurrent of resentment has been stirred up among other African Americans who saved and sacrificed in order to pay for their children’s college education. Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post, explains:

There’s a common complaint I hear from some parents who have sacrificed and saved for their children to attend college debt-free … Was my labor in vain? Those not on the receiving end of this amazing gift might have thought to themselves, even for just a second: “What about us? What do we get for doing the right thing and saving for our kids to go to college debt-free?”

Still, Singletary has encouraging words for those who did it the hard way.

Your saving and sacrificing doesn’t make you a … loser. It makes you responsible and fortunate. There’s so much reward in living within your means, including setting a good example for your children. Whether it’s a surprise gift from a billionaire or need-based aid given to some other’s person’s child, don’t resent what others get.

Potential Preaching Angles: God’s generosity should not be confused with our human instinct for fairness or equivalence, because God’s extravagant love and grace know no bounds. We miss the mark when we devalue God’s generosity by arguing about fairness.

Allana Akhtar, “A billionaire's surprise vow to pay Morehouse graduates' loans is part of the newest trend in the student-debt crisis,” Business Insider (5-20-19); Michelle Singletary, “Robert Smith pledged to pay off Morehouse graduates’ student loans. Is this fair to families who saved?” Washington Post (5-23-19)

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