By Jessie Harris - 06/24/08 04:52 PM EDT
Brent Kent snapped a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and then raced to catch a flight home to Martinsville, Ind. At the time, two summers ago, Kent had ridden a bicycle from the Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco in 49 days. He wanted a memento.
Now interning for Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), Kent said the westward trek pushed him to pursue a public service career because of the people he met along the way. His goal during the trip was not to pay for lodging; he often slept at the homes of strangers.
“I would pull up at a gas station, and people would notice the stuff on my bike,” Kent said, “They would say, ‘Oh my gosh, come stay in my home and meet my family.’ ” Explaining his mission to reach the West Coast, Kent moved people to open their homes to him. And share their stories.
“Everybody has a story to tell,” said Kent, even though he once was shy of having his own story told.
When Kent was a high school senior, The Indianapolis Star published a story about his hardships. At 17, Kent attained legal emancipation from his parents because he didn’t get along with them and wanted a better life. He worked his way through school, logging 45 to 50 hours each week at various jobs: delivering furniture, landscaping, working as a lifeguard. Kent said he was so embarrassed by the newspaper’s coverage of him that he removed all the Stars from newsstands and took them out of the school library. He was also afraid that people would feel sorry for him.
“I wanted people to know that I had a good life,” Kent said. After the story was published, people began bringing clothes to him. He says he didn’t accept the clothes and pointed them in the direction of the local mission.
“I enjoyed working. I’d rather be working than not doing anything. Most people don’t understand that,” Kent said.
The intern says he wasn’t lonely living away from his parents. Kent has mentors from those years in high school that he still refers to as aunt and uncle. The GOP chairman in Morgan County was also a mentor.
“You can find your own family,” Kent said.
He is now thankful for the Star article for just one reason: The story sped his way to college. A Wabash College alumnus, compelled by Kent’s story in the Star, contacted Wabash admissions. The school offered Kent a full scholarship. Kent accepted, his alternative being to save up pennies for college by moving furniture.
He is an incoming senior and is majoring in political science and economics.