Sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of Engaged Learning, the lecture’s theme was empowering women through quality education. The event began with a video made by the Oprah Winfrey Network depicting the life story of Trent. In the video, Winfrey, who now works closely with Trent, talked about how she discovered the Zimbabwe native after New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about her life.
Following the video, President Astrid Tuminez introduced Trent and applauded her for being a fellow advocate for education.
“Dr. Trent is a leading voice in a global fight for quality education for all children,” Tuminez said. “She is also a global fighter for women’s rights.”
Remembering back to being inspired as a child by American tourists visiting her country, Trent told of how she decided then that she wanted to pursue a life of education, and established four life goals: to study abroad, to earn a bachelor’s, to earn a master’s and to earn a doctorate degree. After establishing these goals, Trent said that her mother instructed her to write them down and bury them as a means of adhering to them, only crossing them off once they had been accomplished.
Not having enough money for her education, Trent said her mother would sell produce to help her pay for school. After eight years of trial and error, she received her high school diploma. Trent said at that point she realized she was on a mission.
“I knew I was on a journey to break this vicious cycle of poverty that silences many women,” Trent said.
Speaking about her great grandmother fitting into what she calls the “relay of poverty,” Trent said that she had held the “batton of illiteracy” and passed it down to her grandmother, who passed it down to her mother who finally passed it to her.
“I never wanted to be part of that relay,” Trent said. “But unfortunately, I had to take that baton.”
Later in life she met Jo Luck, the head of an aid group called Heifer International. Luck helped Trent see that she could not pass that baton onto her daughters, and assisted her in going to the United States with her children months later.
While working three jobs and raising five children in America, Trent continued to chase her dream of getting a college degree. She added that times got so tough that she had to dig into dumpsters to get food for her children.
“I would collect everything, wash it, feed the children and ask myself, ‘Who am I to complain that I am feeding my children from trash cans when I know there are thousands of children in Africa who are eating from trash cans because they are homeless?’” Trent said. “At least in America somebody is washing these trash cans.”
After Trent obtained her first bachelor’s degree, she obtained her master’s not long after. Eventually Trent achieved her fourth and final goal: receiving a PhD at Western Michigan University. She did this all while simultaneously writing a dissertation on AIDS prevention in Africa and working for Heifer International as a program evaluator.
Following this educational experience, Trent decided to start a school in Africa. After feeling discouraged that her dream would not become a reality, she received a phone call from Winfrey and discovered that she would be receiving more than $1.5 million to make her dream come true. Trent called this “the most important phone call she has ever received.”
Reminiscing on this moment, Trent noted that helping others was and still is essential in her quest to provide universal access to education.
“Our very survival is connected to the survival of others,” Trent said. “Today, in partnership with Oprah Winfrey, we have 11 schools benefiting more than 6,000 girls and boys.”
To affect change throughout the African continent, Trent said that in writing her book The Awakened Woman — Remembering & Reigniting Our Sacred Dreams, her goal is to give a voice to all women who are voiceless.
“The silencing of women is everywhere, it is not only in Africa,” Trent said. “But we have managed to shift from the idea that women and girls have no value, to the idea that women are a very powerful force. Women are going to change the world whether we like it or not.”
Speaking on her relatability of the lecture is sophomore linguistics major, Meghan DeHaas.
“It was really amazing because I actually am a mom with three kids and I couldn’t go back to school until they were old enough,” DeHaas said. “It was super powerful and I am really glad I came.”
Another attendee of the event is Merissa Kemberling, sophomore communications major. She said that she too was moved by the story of Trent’s life.
“I thought it was absolutely inspiring as a mother of a small child,” Kemberling said. “I found it inspiring to see how someone can come from such adversity and still triumph.”