It’s difficult to describe the reaction to the gift billionaire Robert F. Smith bestowed upon the Morehouse College Class of 2019 during the 135th commencement exercise held Sunday on the campus of the HBCU in Atlanta. Nearly one week later, it’s still the top story in the news, on the internet, and across every social media platform. No matter how you describe the unexpected, graciously-given gift, it re-poses the question Langston Hughes asked more than 50 years ago in his poem, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
The expensive and rising tuition costs, the enormous debt college students incur, and the inability to repay the debt despite a high-quality education, results in the questions Hughes wrote about: Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
From former President Barack Obama to the average college graduate (before Mr. Smith arrived), it is nearly impossible to believe that the average student loan debt of more than $33,000 will ever be repaid. With that kind of debt hanging over a young person’s head, it is difficult to dream of owning a home, marrying or starting a family.
On top of that, President Trump wants to redirect nearly $9 million from the Pell Grant college fund to support NASA’s space program to send astronauts to the moon and Mars, further deferring the dream, and discouraging the dreamer.
Voters must deal with Mr. Trump in 2020, while alumni, to whom Mr. Smith spoke to directly, must deal with keeping the dream alive. Very few can do what Mr. Smith did, and very few who can will.
Black people scraped their way up by earning and spending hard-earned nickels, dimes and quarters to build colleges and universities whose graduates are the manifestation of their dreams. What Mr. Smith asked is what we can all do: give not just once, but often, to support a student or a school, especially an HBCU.
Let’s see what can happen to a dream undeferred.