Trent Kennedy, junior in entrepreneurship and political science, was elected as the student body vice president in last spring’s Student Governing Association elections, despite having a full plate in his personal life.
“My father passed away during the summer of 2015, and he’d only been dead for a month and a half when I started the campaign,” Kennedy said. “It was interesting compartmentalizing my stress from school, my stress from the campaign and the grieving process, and trying to make sure that they didn’t become a jumbled, chaotic mess of emotions.”
Family loss was not the sole source of difficulty in Kennedy’s life at this time, as he also decided to reveal details of his sexual orientation to his loved ones.
“Right around the time that my dad passed away, I also came out to my friends and family,” he said. “It was interesting to navigate the waters of being openly out as gay to my friends, family and fraternity. It was all unchartered territory, but I had an amazing grief counselor and support system.”
Kennedy did not have a clear goal to become the student body vice president. When asked to be running mate with Jessica Van Ranken, student body president and senior in political science, Kennedy was taken by surprise.
“I never really thought ‘Hey, I want to run for student body vice president,’” Kennedy said. “I never had that on my bucket list. When (Van Ranken) asked me, I thought we were meeting to discuss details of an internship, but to my surprise she immediately asked me if I would run as her vice president. I said yes, and the rest is history.”
Kennedy’s current position as vice president was not won without issue. The campaign culminated during the end of the spring 2016 semester and was a challenge until the end. The final weeks of Van Ranken and Kennedy’s campaign was burdened with a logo complication in which they were accused of violating copyright law.
Annie Jewell, junior in mass communications, was the campaign’s public relations director and said she found it difficult to communicate the campaign’s message when the copyright problems arose.
“When the copyright issue came about, we just wanted to effectively and thoroughly explain what happened,” Jewell said. “People were so tied up into these issues that came about during the campaign, that it was challenging to get our message across during the election, and even after we’d actually won.”
Kennedy said he has left the challenges of the campaign in the past, and now focuses on the role of his office.
“We don’t really talk about the campaign anymore,” Kennedy said. “It’s like emotional trauma, and I get a weird feeling in my stomach just talking about it. Those last two weeks were really the biggest learning experience I’ve ever had. The nature of a campaign is not really knowing if what you’re doing is right. It was a lot of questioning myself, and learning to be okay with the discomfort of not having it all figured out.”
Working for Congress
Kennedy is from Frankfort, Kansas, a rural northern Kansas community with a population of 700. Kennedy credits his origins in leadership to Frankfort and the people who live there.
“I was really involved in the community,” Kennedy said. “Everyone knows everyone there, and we all treat each other like family. I just knew that wherever I went to school that I wanted to get involved in a similar way and try to make an impact.”
Although Kennedy has never held a position such as this before, he was no stranger to politics. As a high school student, Kennedy spent a semester in Washington, D.C., serving as a Senate page.
“I spent from January to July of my junior year of high school with the Senate in Washington, D.C.,” Kennedy said. “I attended private school from 6-8 in the morning, and then worked in the Senate all day.”
The experience cemented Kennedy’s interest in becoming a public servant.
“I’d been involved in public service before D.C., but that’s really what made it real, made it applicable,” he said. “I had the chance to watch every member of Congress, and see how they interacted with each other and with staff, and also how each of them managed the art of compromise.”
Kennedy found inspiration in several senators, including Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran. Kennedy said the senator left an impact on his views of policy on a public and personal level.
“Jerry Moran has been the most influential person in my life,” Kennedy said. “I had the chance to have a very personal relationship with him, and he’s someone I go to for advice. He’s got a very close connection to Kansas, and I love Kansas. This is why I’ve chosen to serve at K-State.”
Making student voices heard
Recent budget cuts have left some Kansas State students unsatisfied with the work of state legislators. Dallas Belmont, junior in economics, said the coming election is an important time for the university to modify the level of state influence it receives.
“The economic policies of the legislators are not working out the way they wanted them to,” Belmont said. “They should be replaced. I think that the university would be better off with less influence from these legislators, and more input from student government.”
Kennedy said he thinks it is important for students to understand both the limits and unique opportunities that the platforms of student body president and vice president allow.
“In reality, students like President Van Ranken and I are charged with real-life decisions that impact every student,” Kennedy said. “(Van Ranken) and I have influence in the tuition and fees strategy committee. It’s not a question of power, but a question of voice, and I’d like to think that the president and I have a massive voice.”
Kennedy said although he finds his voice as vice president to have influence, he still faces restrictions.
“State legislation has reminded us that at the end of the day, the legislators have all the power,” he said. “But I’d like to think that we are using our voice to translate the wants and needs that we feel as students, so that these students with smaller voices can be heard.”
Kennedy said he plans to continue to take on the challenges of his public office at K-State through the difficulties that may arise.
“I really love being the punching bag,” Kennedy said. “I knew K-State was where I wanted to be when I realized the value of student voice that K-State holds.”