UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — By now you’ve likely heard about the billionaire businessman who shocked hundreds of students with an unbelievable graduation gift, eliminating their college debt.

Well, that gift was made even more meaningful for one Long Island student who pushed through the toughest challenge of his life to graduate, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Monday.

Erupting into cheers, members of the Morehouse College class of 2019 could not believe their ears during their commencement speech in Atlanta on Sunday when billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith told the 397 graduates they would no longer have any college debt.

“My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” said Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. “On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus.”

He is fueling them with a gift estimated to be worth a total of $40 million.

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Christopher Adams (credit: Christopher Adams)

One of the students in the crowd was Christopher Adams from Uniondale on Long Island. He no longer has to worry about paying back $50,000 worth of college loans. CBS2 spoke to him on FaceTime.

“I was in shocked. I was in awe,” Adams said. “At first, it didn’t resonate with me until after I walked off stage. All of the alumnus or Morehouse College asked how it felt to be debt free. I’m like, ‘So everyone heard that?’ This is the real deal.”

Even more real and special, Adams said he feels his mother, who died shortly after he went away to college, was watching over him.

“My second week upon going down to Atlanta, Georgia, to Morehouse College my mother passed away from breast cancer,” Adams said. “My time there, I didn’t have as clear a state of mind as the rest of my colleagues.”

Despite his loss, Adams’ family — his uncles, aunts and grandmother — made sure he would finish school, supporting him the whole way. They were in the crowd on graduation day equally surprised.

“I heard it, and I saw the kids jumping up and down and just rejoicing, and I was rejoicing with them,” grandmother Magnolia Thomas said. “I just want to say to Christopher that we’re so proud of him that he stuck it out.”

Five years ago, Adams graduated from Uniondale High School, where his uncle is now the principal and also an alumnus of Morehouse College.

“Often times when you graduate from college you take jobs based on ‘I have to pay my student loan.’ This provides an opportunity for students to make a difference in the community,” Dr. Edward Thomas said.

Now the young graduate says he can start his MBA sooner than expected, but most importantly he wants to pay forward Smith’s gift and help the next generation of students.


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