Businessman who surprised students with free tuition says it's his "responsibility"

Why one man surprised students with free tuition

Last Updated Feb 10, 2020 10:42 AM EST

Toledo, Ohio — It's safe to say no school assembly has ever been more life-altering, after businessman Pete Kadens announced he would pay tuition, room and board, books and fees for the seniors at Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio. He will be spending about $3 million to send the students to college.

Pete also offered to pay for their parents to go to college or trade school. But what really stuck with me is that Pete asked to never use the word "gift" to describe what he did. "Only use the word responsibility," Pete said.

Over the years, I've done a lot of stories about wealthy people doing good deeds, but I've never seen one presented with this stipulation. Pete says "gift" implies he had a choice. "Responsibility," on the other hand, implies obligation.

Like the students he's helping, Pete Kadens also grew up in Toledo. But he attended a much wealthier school where college was expected. He worked hard, made a fortune and started three different companies. For that reason, Pete could easily claim to be a self-made man. But that's not how he framed it in his speech.

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Pete Kadens grew up in Toledo before he started three different companies. Pete Kadens

"What became of my life was as much a factor of the inequities that exist in our society today as it was my skills, my talents, and my work ethic," he said.

In other words, Pete says he didn't win at life fair and square. He says many successful people don't.

"The competitive set, the people I compete with, were a lot smaller than otherwise could be if everyone got the same level of education. And Martin Luther King always said history has a long and sordid path of people and groups with privilege protecting their privilege. Well, I'm done protecting my privilege," he said.

Pete Kadens changed many lives that day. Now he hopes to change mindsets, too.

"I hope others share in my responsibility in Toledo and around the world," he said.

Learn more about H.O.P.E. Toledo, the initiative started by Pete Kadens.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com.

Toledo students surprised with free college tuition
  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.