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U-Mass Dartmouth graduates got a surprise gift from a billionaire at graduation

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Graduates of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, walked across the stage earlier this month. They didn't just pick up their diplomas. They were surprised with envelopes of cash, but you guessed it, there's a catch. As NPR's Rachel Treisman reports, it's not all theirs to keep.

RACHEL TREISMAN, BYLINE: One of the speakers at U-Mass Dartmouth's commencement ceremony was Robert Hale Jr., the president of a telecom company and part owner of the Boston Celtics. He was honored with an award for his philanthropic work, but it turns out he was there to give students more than just advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING).

ROBERT HALE JR: Each of you is getting $1,000 cash right now.

(CHEERING)

TREISMAN: As he spoke, security guards carried two duffel bags on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALE: Listen, there's a stipulation. Hang on.

TREISMAN: The applause went on for half a minute before Hale could get to the big reveal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALE: The first $500 is our gift to you. The second $500 is for you to give to somebody else or another organization who could use it more than you.

TREISMAN: Hale knows something about giving. Forbes estimates he's worth some $5.4 billion and has donated millions to charitable causes, including hospitals and schools. And he's actually pulled off the same surprise at four Massachusetts Colleges four years in a row. It started when he was asked to give a commencement speech in the height of COVID. Hale and his wife, Karen, wanted to give students something extra special.

HALE: Some of the most joyous times in our lives have been when we've had the chance to share. We thought if there's a way that we could create that seed within another generation where they would get to experience the joy of giving, then maybe that becomes something that they would strive to do and make us all a little bit better along the way.

TREISMAN: Hale heard that one U-Mass student donated to a local charity that gives holiday gifts to kids, the same charity that brought her joy several years ago. A spokesperson for the state school says graduates have so far given to a women's shelter, a children's theater group, and a relative's cancer treatment among others. Hale thinks that the best cause that any philanthropist can pick is one that they'll want to support in the long term.

HALE: Everybody has somewhat limited resources, so if you're sharing them, it better be something that tugs at your heart strings.

TREISMAN: For Hale, that could include future commencement giveaways. He says there's been no shortage of invitations.

Rachel Treisman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.