SEATTLE -- More than 200 Seattle high school seniors packed into the Chief Sealth auditorium Friday for a gift that could change their lives.
They shuffled in one by one, perplexed.
"I thought we were talking about cap and gown stuff," said one student as she made her way to an auditorium seat. The band played, adding to the suspense.
"They're like, 'What's going on here!'" laughed South Seattle Community College president Gary Oertli as he prepared for the big announcement.
"I love doing this," he said as he walked up to the podium. After a few words about South Seattle Community College, Oertli shared the big news.
"Every one of you, regardless of your grades, regardless of your background will get a one year paid scholarship to South Seattle Community College!" he announced.
The auditorium of more than 200 Chief Sealth International High School seniors erupted into applause.
Each student will receive $5,000 to attend the college. Ruben Deleon, 17, said a burden has now been lifted.
"Lately my parents have been stressing about school. My dad is unemployed," he said.
South Seattle Community College came up with the idea and the cash three years ago after seeing research that showed kids who finished one year of college did better overall in life.
"Our data is showing that the work we're doing not only with the scholarship but working with them once they get there to make sure that they're time at the college is really working," said Oertli.
Through private donations and fundraisers South Seattle has been able to give students that gift.
"I wasn't too sure if college was right for me," said Deleon, "now college is the road that I want to take."
As for his longterm plans, "I just know I wanna be working in an office in downtown Seattle, looking over Puget Sound."
The 13th Year Scholarship program started three years ago at Cleveland High School.