A businessman wanted to address inequality in the community. Now, this student is packing for college

Students prepare for college after massive gift
Students prepare for college after massive gi... 02:42

Last Updated Jul 31, 2020 7:19 PM EDT

Toledo, Ohio — Who would have thought – Chris Rowland packing for college? Certainly not Chris Rowland.

"It just happened so quick and turned everything around," Chris said. "This past year my life has changed so quickly."

It all started at a school assembly in Toledo, Ohio. As we first reported in January, the kids had no idea why they'd been called there, when up walked a wealthy businessman named Pete Kadens.

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Pete Kadens surprised students at Jesup W. Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio, with free college tuition, room and board. CBS News

"Right now, this next minute, is the most important moment of my life," Pete told the students.

Pete had been thinking a lot about social injustice — and how to fix it.

"And so if you want to make a big difference, you go to the epicenter of inequity. And to me, Scott High School is the epicenter of inequity in this community," he told CBS News.

Scott High School has some of the most disadvantaged students in the state. But the school is still rich with dreams, and kids like Chris Rowland who always wanted to go to college, but couldn't afford it — especially after what happened last fall.

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Chris Rowland

That's when Chris' mom, Abena, lost her job, and his dad died in a house fire.

"My dad was the closest person I had in my life," Chris said.

"He was such an awesome father. He's still gonna make him proud, I know he is," Abena said.

Fortunately, that path to a brighter future was about to find him.

"If you're sitting here in this room today, as a soon to be graduating senior, tuition, room and board, books and fees will be paid for you will go to college for free," Pete said.

After we first told this story, about 75 kids, three-quarters of the graduating class, accepted Pete's generous offer. That includes Chris, who will be studying criminal justice at Lourdes College in Toledo. He wants to be a police officer.

He said the latest news about police has not changed his mind.

"That's the whole point of me wanting to be a police officer — to make a change," Chris said.

Back in January, before the country tore apart, Pete Kadens had already imagined a fix. "And this is how we change the world," Pete said.

And I'm guessing that's why, if you would have looked up through the gym ceiling that day, as Chris did, you would have seen a dad, beaming with pride and gratitude.


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

  • 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.