Billionaire rains cash on UMass graduates for $1,000 each, but tells them to give half away

MEREDITH, N.H. — The clouds weren't the only ones that caused it to rain during the commencement ceremony at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth last week. On stage, billionaire philanthropist Rob Hale surprised the graduating class of more than 1,000 students by pointing to a nearby truck containing envelopes stuffed with cash.

Sitting under ponchos and umbrellas during the rain-soaked ceremony, the graduates shouted and cheered, mouths agape, as Hale announced he would dump money on them. Security guards then dragged the cash-filled duffel bags onto the stage.

Hale told the students they would each receive $1,000. But there was a condition: they had to keep $500 and give away the rest.

Hale said the greatest joy he and his wife Karen had experienced in their lives came from giving.

'We want to give you two gifts. The first is our gift to you,” Hale told the students. “The second is the gift of giving. These difficult times have increased the need for sharing, caring and giving. Our community needs you and your generosity more than ever.”

Granite Telecommunications founder and CEO Hale is estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $5.4 billion. He owns a minority stake in the Boston Celtics.

It is the fourth year in a row that he has given a similar gift to a group of graduating students. Last year it was for students from UMass Boston, and before that it was for students from Roxbury Community College and Quincy College.

But the students at UMass Dartmouth had no idea in advance that Hale would speak — let alone that money would be given away.

“I was very surprised,” says Joshua Bernadin, who majored in chemistry. “Everyone around me was in shock for a few seconds, and then they were all so happy.”

Bernadin said he was also very happy with the money. He hasn't decided yet what to do with his $500, although he could use it to pay off his student loans. He plans to donate the remaining $500 to the theater company and gospel choir he was involved with in college.

He said he liked the idea of ​​being forced to donate.

“I feel like a lot of people, especially in my generation, are saying, 'I have to take this, I have to take that.'”

He said that attitude was somewhat justified given the difficulty of establishing oneself in today's world, but it was also important to remember and give back to those who had helped along the way.

Hale told the students that his road to success had been a bumpy one after his previous company Network Plus filed for bankruptcy in 2002 during the dot-com crash.

“Have you ever met someone who has lost a billion dollars before? Hale said, joking about giving career advice to the students. “I might be the biggest loser you've ever met, and you have to sit in the rain and listen to me.”

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Hale said part of the message he wanted to convey was that it is okay to take risks in life and fail.

He said he and his wife started the tradition of cash giveaways in the middle of the pandemic, when students had little to celebrate.

The most impactful part was hearing the heartfelt messages from those who had benefited from the students' gifts, he said, from struggling local organizations to families who could suddenly afford Christmas gifts.

Graduates who did not attend the ceremony missed out on the money. Hale said he hears from some every year, with different reasons for their absence.

“We tell them, one of the messages is, you have to show up,” Hale said.

He said local primary schools personalize the two envelopes given to each of the students. One says “Gift” and one says “Give” and each contains $500. He acknowledged there was no way to ensure students gave away half the money.

“But I believe the vast majority are doing the right thing and are happy about it,” he said.

Hale is — unsurprisingly — in demand as a commencement speaker, and he said he plans to give away more money next year. But which commencement he will attend will once again remain a surprise.

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