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Billionaire gives UMass graduates $1,000 each — but they have to give half of it

The clouds weren't the only ones causing rain at the commencement ceremony at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth last week. On stage, billionaire philanthropist Rob Hale surprised the more than 1,000 graduates by pointing to a nearby truck holding envelopes full of cash.

The graduates, huddled under ponchos and umbrellas during the sodden ceremony, screamed and cheered with their mouths open as Hale announced he was showering them with money. Security guards then dragged the duffel bags filled with cash onto the stage.

Hale said each of the students would receive $1,000. But there was one condition: they had to keep $500 and donate the rest.

Hale said the greatest joy he and his wife Karen have experienced in their lives has been the act of 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 heightened the need to share, care and give. 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 graduates. Last year it went to students at UMass Boston and before that to students at Roxbury Community College and Quincy College.

But UMass Dartmouth students had no idea in advance that Hale would speak — let alone that he would give away money.

“I was very surprised,” said Joshua Bernadin, who earned a degree 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 about the money. He hasn't decided what to do with his $500, although it could go toward paying off his student loans. He plans to donate the remaining $500 to the theater group and gospel choir he was involved with at the university.

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

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

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

Hale told students his road to success was rocky after his previous company, Network Plus, filed for bankruptcy in 2002 during the dot-com crash.

“Have you ever met someone who lost a billion dollars? Hale said as he joked about giving the students career advice. “I may be the biggest loser you’ve ever met and you have to sit in the rain and listen to me.”

In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Hale said that the message he wanted to convey was, among other things, that it was OK to take risks and fail in life.

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

Most impactful, he said, was hearing warm messages from those who had benefited from students' gifts, from struggling local organizations to families suddenly able to afford Christmas presents.

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

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

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

“But I believe that the vast majority do the right thing and then enjoy it,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Hale is in high demand as a commencement speaker, and he said he plans to give away more money next year. But which commencement he attends will again remain a surprise.

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Anna Harden

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