It took a 4,000-mile roadtrip meeting celebrities, politicians and corporate CEOs – and starring in a documentary along the way – for Johnathan Allen to figure out who he is.
The University of Central Florida marketing major was one of four college students crammed in an RV for a five-week journey for “Roadtrip Nation,” a PBS series that follows participants as they interview inspiring leaders and people doing jobs they love.
The episode documenting Allen’s trip – “Why Not Us?” – will be shown in a special screening in Knight’s Plaza at 7 p.m. Thursday. Allen will be there to take questions. (Watch a trailer here.)
The trip gave Allen and his fellow road-trippers the opportunity to interview bigwigs, including singer-songwriter John Legend, the CEOs of Starbucks and AT&T, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the director of Teach for America and others.
The experience helped Allen and the other students – who were each the first in their families to attend college – believe they could achieve their dreams of higher education and beyond.
“I was lost,” Allen said. “This trip taught me how to shed the noise of everyone telling me you can’t do that, or you should do this. You have doubters, and you can have self-doubt yourself. It was scary how life-changing it was.”
The four students hadn’t met before the trip, but quickly became like family.
“From the moment we saw each other at the airport, it was like we were long-lost friends,” he said. “Since we split in August, we haven’t stopped talking to each other at all.”
None of them had driven an RV before, but after about 45 minutes of training were put behind the wheel of the 35-foot vehicle for the duration of the cross-country trip.
In addition to talking with influential people, Allen said, the road-trippers also went skydiving, bungee jumping and whitewater rafting.
Those experiences were all the more memorable for these particular students, who came from underprivileged backgrounds. Allen, from Winter Haven, was one of five children raised by a single mother in a two-bedroom, one-bath home.
First-generation college students face challenges others don’t, often including not having family members to help with admissions deadlines and financial aid applications.
“I know how it feels to doubt yourself about whether you can go to college or should go to college,” Allen said. “Honestly, just do it. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking straight.”