Robert F. Smith’s Top Five Most Memorable Speaking Engagements

Robert F. Smith at Morehouse College

An exceptional speech can make a positive lasting impression on those who witness it. During Robert F. Smith’s storied career, he has made numerous memorable speeches and participated in a variety of speaking engagements. While all his speeches, addresses, and interviews are noteworthy, here are arguably his top five most unforgettable speaking engagements. 

  1. Morehouse College 2019 Spring Commencement Address 

In May of 2019, Smith delivered a riveting commencement address to the Spring graduates of Morehouse College. As part of his commencement address, he centered on a few important topics, including living one’s own life to the fullest, acknowledging a changing world, working hard, paying attention to what really matters and, most notably, giving back to the community, or in other words, becoming a community builder. However, Smith did more than just speak about and encourage generosity from the graduating students. He put his words into action. At this now famous address, he pledged to pay all of the graduates’ student loan debt. In return, he asked each student to pay his gesture forward and live the lives that they had dreamed. Sources estimate that the gift was roughly $34 million.

  1. Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Acceptance Speech 

The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy is bestowed to individuals whose philanthropic efforts help fulfill Andrew Carnegie’s mission to shape a better world. In October of 2019, Smith was honored with the award, providing a brief but rewarding acceptance speech. Humbled by the gesture, Smith thanked the Carnegie Foundation and those that support Carnegie’s legacy. He attributed his philanthropic efforts to the example his parents set by their philanthropy. Additionally, he stated that, through his philanthropy, he hopes to be able to “liberate the human spirit,” which he believes is the most important thing on earth. Some highlights of his charitable works include funding music programs, covering student debt for the college graduates of Morehouse College and working with the Fund II Foundation to assist underrepresented minorities entering the workforce.

  1. Talks at Goldman Sachs: The Fourth Industrial Revolution Interview 

Each week, Goldman Sachs conducts interviews with some of the world’s most experienced investors in their program Talks at Goldman Sachs. In April of 2017, Smith made an appearance on the show to speak about his history, life ambitions and driving principles to success. Although Smith’s family life, education and work history, including his time at Goldman Sachs in 1994, were addressed in the interview, the breadth of the interview centered on Smith’s founding of Vista Equity Partners in 2000 and the next industrial revolution. He argued that we are truly in the first stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will ultimately lead to the digitalization of every single company. “You have to be thoughtful about creating an environment where new ideas of innovation are not only welcome, but they’re encouraged,” Smith stated about the revolution. Otherwise, you risk being complacent. The interview finished with a lightning round of questions.

  1. TIME100 Talks Interview 

In June of 2020, Smith was interviewed by Time Magazine in their news program, TIME100 Talks. Smith addressed in the interview how education can assist with upper mobility in society, but a striking number of Blacks students face crushing debt after finishing their education. With that in mind, Smith launched the Student Freedom Initiative, which aims to ease the burden of student loans for Black STEM students by providing grants and loans with interest rates lower than that of the parent PLUS loan. With the burden of student debt minimized, Smith emphasized in his interview that he hopes that Black college students will be able to pursue better career options and further educational opportunities. The Student Freedom Initiative is planned to launch in Fall 2021 and will help students from eleven historically black colleges. Launching with a $50 million grant from Fund II Foundation, the initiative will take on new 5,000 students each year. The goal is to continue to grow the endowment amount and incorporate more than 100 historically black colleges, along with other minority centers of higher education.

  1. Forbes Interview Robert Smith Explains the 2% Solution to Structural Racism in America

Chief Content Officer of Forbes Magazine, Randall Lane, interviewed Smith in 2020 to discuss his 2% solution. In the interview, Smith encouraged the public to think about the biggest challenges facing our society today, emphasizing that structural capitalism is the greatest challenge to overcome in corporate America. He argued that large corporations should take responsibility and use 2% of their annual net income for the next decade to help deliver capital to Black and other minority communities. While companies are encouraged to utilize their earnings to fill any gaps in racial inequality, the first step is to have more prominent banks assist financial institutions in Black communities in order to help combat the deprivation of capital.

View more of Robert F. Smith’s speaking engagements