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by Stephan Maldonado | May 21, 2019

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Robert F. Smith, the billionaire founder of Vista Equity Partners, set the internet ablaze this past weekend when he announced he’s paying off the student debt for Morehouse College’s entire graduating class. The surprise announcement came during his commencement address when Smith said his family is establishing a grant to “eliminate their student loans.” Almost 400 students graduated from Morehouse on May 19, 2019.

Morehouse administrators are still calculating the exact size of Smith’s gift, though most reports estimate that it will amount to roughly $40 million. Smith donated $1.5 million to the historically black college earlier this year, directing the funds to endowed scholarships and the construction of a new park on campus.

It’s worth mentioning that Smith is not a Morehouse alum. He holds an undergraduate degree in engineering from Cornell and received his MBA from Columbia. In 2000, he founded Vista Equity Partners: a private equity and venture capital firm that, according to Forbes, manages more than $46 billion in assets.

In announcing his gift to the Class of 2019, Smith also charged graduates to pay it forward. “This is my challenge to you, alumni,” Smith said. “This is my class—2019…Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward. And I want my class to look at these [alumni], these beautiful Morehouse brothers, and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward—because we are enough to take care of our community.”

There are so many ways we can pay it forward in our communities, but in the spirit of Smith’s gift, let’s explore how recent graduates—both MBAs and undergrads—can give back.

Stay active in your alumni network.

You might join one of your school's alumni groups to network with like-minded individuals who shared some of the same experiences as you (at least academically) and have a few years of work under their belts. It's a chance to learn hopefully to forge some meaningful connections. 

But joining an alumni group is an excellent way to become one of those professionals who share their wisdom with others. Through networking events, conferences, forums, and more, alumni groups allow people to connect with one another. But they also organize fundraisers, community outreach, and volunteer initiatives. Alumni groups help you stay involved in the goings on at your alma mater, and they present you with resources and opportunities to maximize the impact you have in your community and beyond.

Most schools have at least one alumni group, and being an active alum exposes you to an entirely new world of different ways you can make a difference. And if there's a cause close to your heart that your alumni network isn't addressing, there's often ample opportunity to bring your own ideas to the table.

Become a mentor to current or prospective students.

Look into the mentorship programs available through your school or local community groups. If you do join an alumni group, chances are you'll be able to find opportunities to become a mentor fairly easily. 

Mentorship can take different forms. It can involve working with high school students to help prepare them for college. You might also mentor students who are already in college, helping them navigate campus life or start thinking about life after graduation. Current and prospective students both often gravitate to MBA's in particular, so if you've just graduated from an MBA program, your insight might be especially helpful.

There are so many ways to mentor younger students, so find the way that's most fulfilling for you, or where you feel you can make the most impact.

Donate to a scholarship.

One of the most effective ways to make an impact in the lives of students is to donate to a scholarship. For so many people, education is only possible through financial assistance, and every little bit counts.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you find out how to donate to a scholarship. It might help to start by identifying a cause you're passionate about and finding a scholarship that supports that cause.

Your school's office of financial aid services can either help you organize a donation for a scholarship specific to the school or connect you with external programs. You can also explore the online resources provided by the College Board and the Department of Education. These resources are typically geared to students looking for financial aid, but they're a good way to learn about the different organizations that provide scholarships. As with any donation, it's imperative that you do your due diligence to make sure your money is going to the right place.

Seek out volunteer opportunities or charitable initiatives through your employer.

Your alma mater is a fantastic resource if you're looking for the most impactful ways to give back, but there's no reason you need to limit your giving to the confines of your school. Many employers—especially larger, more influential companies—strive to make charity and volunteerism essential to their core values. 

Food drives. Volunteer trips. Raffles. Fundraisers. These are just a few of the ways companies try to give back, either as a whole company or through smaller employee groups. Find a group or club within your company that's working on a cause that matters to you—or explore the proper channels for organizing your own.

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