A Southern California man was about to leave college Sunday and enter the real world carrying $150,000 in student loan debt when the billionaire commencement speaker at his graduation made a stunning announcement: his family would be providing grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 class.
Dwytt Lewis, 21, grew up in Compton and Lynwood, and was one of the graduating members of Morehouse College that got an amazing promise from Robert Smith, the billionaire founder of Vista Equity Partners.
"I'm still speechless," Lewis told NBC4 via FaceTime from Atlanta.
Smith began by telling the nearly 400 students that he was "going to put a little fuel in your bus," and then made the stunning announcement that would change their lives forever.
"We're looking and around and saying, 'Are we just hot or did he say this?'" Lewis said. "Picture your last 45 seconds of being an undergraduate student, you get a full ride."
Smith's gift to the all-male graduates of the historically black college is estimated to be worth around $40 million.
A study by the Center for American Progress showed that 80% of African American students take out student loans, compared to 60% of white and Latino students.
Fifteen years after leaving college, black adults have an average balance that is 185% higher than white adults, a study found.
Lewis said now that Smith has lifted the burden of student debt off his shoulders, he can now search for a job more strategically instead of taking any work in order to pay the bills.
He also said Smith's gift is inspiring him even more to give back to his community and become a mentor for other young men.
"I played football [in Lynwood]. I want to talk to the team. I want to talk to freshmen and sophomores," he said.
Lewis' mom, who was in the audience at Sunday's graduation ceremony, was in disbelief over Smith's generous gift to her son. She texted him moments after the announcement and asked, "Did he say he's paying off your loans?"
"Yes, man, God is real, dude," Lewis answered.