A guiding force 1,800 miles away

Shaquille Kent is one of 15 members on a committee to help find USF’s next president, USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb announced Friday. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/SHAQUILLE KENT

Growing up, it was Gale Lewis’ dream to leave Trinidad and Tobago to pursue a college education in America.

However, being one of nine siblings, money was too tight for her to come.

That’s why, whenever Shaquille Kent, her youngest son and USF’s student body vice president, said he wanted to study in America, she was determined to make it happen — even with money being a concern.

“What I didn’t do, he needed to — not just for him, but for me,” Lewis said from her home in Trinidad. “I told him, whatever we need to do, we’ll do it.”

Now a junior at USF, Kent is living his and Lewis’ mutual dream, studying business and serving in a plethora of roles around campus — being a USF Ambassador, a figurehead in Student Government and a member of the Alumni Association’s board of directors.

Most recently, Kent was selected to represent USF’s student population on a 15-person search committee that’s tasked with finding USF’s next system president to replace Judy Genshaft when she retires next July.

While his success on campus is nearly as prominent as his smile, Kent’s day-to-day life has not been as easy as it may seem on the surface.

Days go by where he eats only one meal. Other days, he’ll eat none.

“You had to choose some days,” he said. “Insurance, rent or multiple meals.”

In order to transport to and from campus, Kent purchased a 2006 Dodge Caravan with a fellow Trinidadian, splitting the cost at $500 each.

He described the van as what Americans would call a “soccer-mom van.”

Kent insisted the type of vehicle didn’t matter. He had something to get him from one place to the next.

That is, until the car’s transmission blew up and the duo couldn’t afford to fix it. He now relies on friends and the Bull Runner to get from point A to B.

“There’s this misconception when you’re in leadership roles that everybody thinks everything’s going perfect, that everything’s alright,”  Kent said. “They assume I don’t struggle. Honestly, I do.”

Back home in Morvant, Trinidad and Tobago, Lewis aches at the thought of her son struggling, especially when it comes to eating. Kent’s the youngest of four siblings and has always had an extra-special bond with his mother, though, he said he’s sometimes hesitant to admit it.

While Kent opts at times to use Feed-A-Bull, a campus food pantry initiative, Lewis constantly urges him to eat properly — usually doing so in their daily texts and phone calls through WhatsApp.

“I tell him, ‘look, use the credit card, eat properly, the money will come and we’ll pay it back,’” Lewis said.

To save money, Kent says he often cooks his own meals, some of which he calls his mother for help with preparing. His favorite dish: curry chicken with garlic, spices from Trinidad, chickpeas, rice and roti skin.

When he’s not cooking or using his campus meal plan — a 32-meals-per-semester plan, the cheapest available — he’s using coupons and doing whatever it takes to cut costs at every corner.

“I try to use coupons as much as possible,” Kent said, with two coupon books sitting in the middle of his desk. “I always look and see where I can save, little here, little there.”

In Trinidad, Lewis is a newly-retired elementary school teacher, while her husband works in construction. Kent said he grew up wanting to be a scientist and that his mom always supported any and all aspirations he had.

Though the now-24-year-old didn’t discover his love for business until he spent two years as a clerical assistant at a bank in Trinidad — saving money to come to USF — his mom said she couldn’t be more proud of who he’s become.

Kent says he owes it all to her. That’s why, whenever he does something — as big as winning a student body election or as small as acing a test — she’s the first to know.

The same rang true whenever Kent found out last Thursday that he’d been selected by the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) to join the 15-person search committee that’ll actively search to find USF’s next system president.

Kent said he never applied for the position, but instead received a call from BOT Chair Brian Lamb out of the blue, asking him if he was interested in representing students on the committee.

He gladly accepted.

Though he’s still unsure of what his duties will entail, he knows he’ll be asked to help build the profile of what attributes the next president should possess.

After accepting, conversations with prominent USF figures ensued — a food-court chat with USF Provost Ralph Wilcox and then a phone call with Les Muma, USF’s all-time leading donor and chair of the search committee.

They, however, could never mean as much to Kent as the first person he called upon being offered the position.

“When he was selected to be on the committee to select the president, he called me and said, with so much joy, ‘mommy, mommy,’” Lewis said. “Then he told me and I dropped down to my knees and said, ‘Thank you Jesus.’”

Kent said he visits home every chance he can, money permitting, and his mom does the same in coming to him. To cut costs, both he and Lewis fly into and out of Fort Lauderdale, using a bus to get from Tampa to South Florida.

He says he could’ve never imagined accomplishing everything he has at USF before he came to the school in the fall of 2015.

Though she misses him every day, Lewis said she’s proud to see her son not only living her dream, but potentially living it even better.

“People here tell me I have a golden boy,” she said. “Everybody’s so proud of him. I wish he could be here sometimes, but we keep in touch every day. That’s my doux-doux.”