Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith made national news for his gift to Morehouse College students at their recent commencement ceremony. Smith told the 396 graduates he planned to pay off their student debts. According to The New York Times, the average college senior owes $29,000 so his gift will make a tremendous impact to those students and their families.
The Morehouse graduating class was spared decades of monthly payments (approximately $40 million dollars worth). But more than money, Smith, in his address, told the class it would “allow them to more quickly go toward with what they are passionate about.”
This, he said, is where “you can make your greatest contribution to the world.”
Smith said he wanted students to understand that part of receiving his gift is they think about taking care of the people behind them when they are able.
And while Smith’s level of paying it forward is out of reach for most of us, we can all take that same sentiment and make an impact on others in meaningful ways. Whether volunteering our time, mentoring a person, donating to a cause we’re passionate about, or committing random acts of kindness, the ways we can contribute to those around us are truly endless.
Generosity is human nature. Most of us, at some point, either paid it forward to someone else or benefited from the random kindness of a stranger. Whether we paid for someone’s cup of coffee behind us in line at McDonalds, donated blood, or just listened to someone who needed to talk, in that moment we reminded ourselves and others that the world is actually filled with selfless, generous, and kind people.
It’s a nice feeling - and one small act can turn your day around while helping someone else have a better day. And paying it forward encourages the recipient to be kinder and more compassionate to others as well.
Consider the story of the woman who decided to perform 48 acts of kindness within 48 hours in honor of her 48th birthday. Most of the beneficiaries were strangers. She left voice mails of poetry. She sent a book to a recent divorcee. A teenager who had just lost his job received an iTunes gift card.
In all, she spent $150 of birthday gift money during her pay-it-forward project - and gained an invaluable present for herself in the process.
The woman, according to the Forbes article she was featured in, said she realized how much unconditional love she could feel for people she didn’t know.
“It changed my whole outlook on life. I realized that I don’t ever need to feel lonely or unloved - I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.”
Paying it forward creates a sense of connectedness and positivity. When we feel connected to each other, we are kinder, more patient and more supportive. We take better care of our communities and even think more collectively as opposed to individualistically.
And while the Robert Smiths of the world get the media attention, know that we all have the ability to help others one cup of coffee at a time.
So while we hope someone shows up at next week’s PHS graduation and offers to pay for every graduate’s college, we also wish for the not-so-grand, everyday acts of kindness that help people in smaller ways every single day.
For in the words of Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”