Bryan Armstead Jr. was sitting with his graduating class at Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday when he heard the commencement speaker, Robert F. Smith, say that he’s paying off all their student debt.
It took some time for the news to sink in.
“I started to clap but I had a blank stare on my face because I couldn’t believe he said that,” the 23-year-old graduate, who majored in Spanish, tells PEOPLE. “I was at a loss for words. I’m still in shock.”
Then Armstead Jr. realized that his $80,000 in student loans would no longer a burden he needed to carry.
“It shows so much empathy because he thought of being in our shoes and how helpful it is to have financial freedom,” says the Atlanta, Georgia, native.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith, who is the founder, chairman and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, said that he and his family are creating a grant to pay off their debt, which is estimated to be $40 million.
Forbes reports that Smith is the 355th richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $5 billion.
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SOURCE: PEOPLE, Caitlin Keating