Dr. Michael T. Benson — a BYU graduate, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the president of Eastern Kentucky University — recently made headlines for shoveling the driveway of one of his students after the two made a deal over social media.
On Feb. 17, a snowstorm left Richmond, Kentucky, blanketed in snow. That area of Kentucky is not accustomed to receiving significant amounts of snow, so when classes were not canceled at EKU, many students, including Devan Dannelly, expressed their frustration by tweeting at Benson.
“Yo @EKUPrez come shovel my driveway/road and I’ll come to class tomorrow,” Dannelly tweeted. “ deal???”
Benson received the tweet, and while he had received offers of monetary compensation if he would cancel classes, Dannelly’s tweet intrigued him.
“I was out in the driveway and my phone buzzes,” Benson said. “I see this tweet, and I go in to my wife, and I said, ‘I’m going to surprise a student. I just want to see the look on his face when I show up to shovel his driveway.’"
Benson responded just seven minutes later, asking for Dannelly’s address, and proving to be a man of his word, Benson arrived less than an hour later. With the help of a friend, Benson shoveled Dannelly’s driveway before sharing a meal with Dannelly; his mother, Kanda; and sister Deneal.
Dannelly has since posted multiple tweets about Benson. One tweet read, “The Prez has inspired me who wants their driveway shoveled???”
He was not the only person Benson inspired. Other students tweeted at Benson throughout the week, sharing pictures of sidewalks they had cleared. Benson also caught the attention of news outlets throughout the United States and the world.
“I had no idea it was going to go like this,” Benson said. “But if students are somehow encouraged to help others and pitch in, then that is a very positive by-product.”
Many people have helped Benson and his family since they moved to Kentucky a year ago, and he was grateful for the opportunity to serve.
“We’ve really come to appreciate the people here,” Benson said. “They’re very devout in their faith, and they adhere to their beliefs. For a lot of people here, I’m the first Latter-day Saint that they have really gotten to know, and I really try and do my best to live my religion and also be a good example, in a lot of ways be as good in my faith as these folks are in theirs because I really admire my friends who are Jews and Christians and Muslims here that are very committed to their faith. They are an example to me as well.”
Benson, the grandson of former LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson, received his Bachelor’s degree from BYU, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in political science and a double minor in English and history. Prior to assuming his position at EKU, Benson served as president of Southern Utah University. The university’s public relations staff encouraged him to join Twitter about a year ago.
“I hope that it’s fun for them and that they see that I’m a real person,” Benson said of the students. “I’ve got a family, and we’re part of the community, and we want to help. In Kentucky, they’re very big on calling people 'doctor' or 'president,' and titles are fine and good, and there’s an element of respect there that I certainly appreciate, but I’m just an ordinary person that is trying to, I hope, make a difference, and I hope that students see that.”