A billionaire gave college grads $1000 each at commencement - but they can only keep half

Graduates at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth received more than flowers and a commemorative degree frame this weekend when a commencement guest surprised them with envelopes full of cash.

Granite Telecommunications founder and CEO Robert Hale, Jr. attended the ceremony on Saturday in anticipation of receiving the Chancellor's Medal for his work in local philanthropy. True to form, Hale took the opportunity to share some more of his more than $5 billion fortune, reported The Standard Times, part of the USA TODAY Network.

“These trying times have heightened the need for sharing, caring and giving,” Hale told the 1,200 graduation students. “We want to give you two gifts: the first is our gift to you, the second is the gift of giving.”

Grads soon found out that the truck near the stage was filled with duffle bags containing envelopes with $500 cash in $100 bills. Each graduate received two of the envelopes: one for themselves, and one for giving to an organization or person need.

"Our community and our world need our help now more than ever, Hale told the audience. ”The greatest joys we've had in our life have been the gift of giving."

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Not the first graduation surprise

Philanthropist Robert Hale tells University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Class of 2024 graduates about the gift of $1,000 he and his wife Karen gave to them in the form of two envelopes: one to use, one to share.
Philanthropist Robert Hale tells University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Class of 2024 graduates about the gift of $1,000 he and his wife Karen gave to them in the form of two envelopes: one to use, one to share.

Perhaps even more surprising than the gift itself is the fact that this is not the first time Hale has made such a donation.

Back in 2021, Hale made headlines for giving Quincy College graduates the same unexpected present; $1,000 given to each graduate via two envelopes, one with $500 to keep for themselves and one to give to an organization “that needs it more than them.”

The announcement was made mid-ceremony when each of the 490 grads was told the white van parked on the field of Veterans Memorial Stadium contained envelopes filled with cash.

"We are going to give you two gifts. The first is for you, second one is the gift intended to be the gift of giving," Hale said at the time, reported The Patriot Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network. "This pandemic heightened our need to help others, and we wanted you to share in the joy of sharing. Our community needs you more than ever."

Who is Robert Hale?

Robert Hale Jr. is an American businessman, founder and CEO of Granite Telecommunications and co-founder of Boston-based commercial real estate firm FoxRock Properties.

According to Forbes, Hale has a current net worth of $5.4 billion, making him the 572nd richest person in the world and number 203 on the list of wealthiest Americans.

As previously reported by The Patriot Ledger, Hale did not appear on Forbes' list of billionaires until 2022 but has grown his wealth by $2.2 billion since then. In the past year alone, he bumped up his worth by $400 million.

One of the wealthiest people in the state of Massachusetts, Hale is a native of North Andover but also has homes in Hingham and Boston. Hale founded Granite Telecommunications in 2002 after a previous business venture went bankrupt, resulting in hundreds of employees losing their jobs, reported The Patriot Ledger.

Granite found itself the subject of some ridicule earlier this year when 68 workers were laid off due to automation and changing tech, reported The Ledger.

Hale received the Chancellor's Medal for his involvement in philanthropy, which includes donating large sums to the tune of $270 million to charitable causes and hosting the annual “Saving by Shaving” fundraiser to secure millions in funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, according to The Ledger. The profile also notes that this number represents about 5% of his wealth, which landed him a philanthropy rating of 3 out of 5.

He likewise received a Forbes cover story in October 2022 when he and his wife Karen pledged to donate $1 million a week to small non-profits locally and beyond. According to The Patriot Ledger, donations went to a variety of organizations, including a wildlife center, hospice program, Boys & Girls Club, programs providing financial support for women and at-risk youth, cancer research, education and youth development programs, funds for children with muscular dystrophy, and an organization providing shelter for victims of domestic violence.

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More moments from graduation season

Thanks to social media, the most eventful moments of the 2024 graduation season have made for some interesting online viewing, even for those not attending a ceremony in person this year.

A commencement speaker at Thomas Jefferson University apologized earlier this month after an embarrassing series of name mispronunciations left graduates and audience members baffled. The college later issued a written apology explaining that the announcer had been reading the phonetic pronunciations written out on the name cards, leading to confusion.

In another viral commencement moment, NFL player Harrison Butker stirred major controversy with his commencement speech at Benedictine College in which he told female graduates they had been told the "most diabolic lies" about having successful careers when they should be "most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world," as being a "homemaker" is the most important title for women.

Protests and walkouts have also featured prominently this season. Biden's speech at Morehouse College faced some pushback, while Jerry Seinfeild's speaker spot at Duke caused students to walk out.

Pro-Palestine protests at colleges across the country drew attention in the weeks leading up to commencement ceremonies as well, including encampments and ongoing demonstrations at prominent schools like Berkley, Columbia, MIT, UPenn, Pomona and Brown.

Contributing: Greg Sullivan, The Standard Times

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Billionaire Hale gives grads $1000 each at UMass Dartmouth graduation