By Sara Richardson
He borrowed a used helmet, strapped Sears Catalogs under his jeans for padding and layered his hands with several pairs of gloves. The other team sported state-of-the-art equipment, but that didn”t matter.
“We won the championship game,” said Brent Gilchrist, a visiting political science. “And here I was, a guy who skated on his ankles, playing with these other two guys who couldn”t skate either, wearing a championship crest for a game we won against some guy who was headed for the NHL.”
Unlike the opposing team, this Canadian boy was not headed for a professional hockey league, but he was headed on a road not many BYU professors have experienced.
He was an intelligent boy who skipped several grades of school when he was young. Everyone said he was full of potential. Yet he dropped out of high school at age 15.
He traveled to the United States with his older sister where he began buying used furniture at farm auctions to renovate and sell for a profit, and traveling to San Francisco to buy “hippie sand candles” to bring back to Kansas.
“You couldn”t travel in the winter so then my job changed from cleaning furniture to emptying trash cans behind bars for beer cans to turn in for eight cents a pound,” Gilchrist said.
After stomping beer cans flat for a few months, he decided to return to Canada and eventually went back to school.
He skipped grades 11 and 12, and finished grade 13 in order to be eligible for college. The principal, who had reluctantly allowed Gilchrist back into school, even more reluctantly presented him with the Ontario scholar and subject medal in geography and sent him off to college.
It seemed Gilchrist would do great at Carlton University, but only two-thirds of the way through his first year, he dropped out yet again.
“I quit going to church when I quit school too,” he said. “But I always had a testimony, and I was never shy about sharing it.”
Two of his traveling companions even joined the church and served full-time missions after staying with Gilchrist and his parent in the course of their travels.
“At parties he would sit there and try to convert people to believe,” his wife Joanne said.
However, Gilchrist had different plans for life than becoming an active churchgoer. Instead, he became a certified car mechanic and eventually ended up opening his own shop to install propane gas tanks in vehicles.
When business died, Gilchrist decided to go back to school to become a high school geography teacher. Little did he expect, his voyage back to school also became a voyage back to religious activity.
“I was able to start fresh all the way around,” he said. “On the spiritual side of things, when I came back to the church, it was really because of the home teachers and a lot of good missionary work.”
Gilchrist worked to earn the Melchizedek Priesthood and baptized his wife.
“I never felt like I didn”t belong in this church,” Joanne said.
Gilchrist said he became active again because he simply knew it was the right thing to do, not because he received any profound spiritual experiences.
“But after I had stuck with it for about a year, I had this wonderful spiritual experience that confirmed everything and testified to me of the goodness of what I was doing,” he said. “It was a good lesson for me that the Lord brings blessings after you have done your part. That”s taught me to stick with it when I do things that I know are right.”
Because Gilchrist had no income, the family moved to a cottage home Joanne had inherited, and Gilchrist commuted an hour and a half to school every day.
He worked hard and received a bachelor”s degree with distinction. Again, the school did not want to award him this honor because his first year of college had counted as a failed year. Yet one political science professor argued the policy needed to be changed on his behalf.
“He went to bat for me saying that … maybe the university had failed me the first time since I was able to come back and graduate the way I did,” Gilchrist said.
After receiving his Ph.D. last summer, Gilchrist taught full-time at Pittsburgh State University in Kansas for one year and came to BYU as a visiting professor for this school year.
His contract at BYU lasts two years, after which he can apply for another position.
“If we are not meant to be here, I think we”re not going to be here after next year,” Joanne said. “It means we need to be somewhere else.”
Gilchrist is thankful to teach at BYU, both as a means to build his portfolio and because he encounters such dedicated students.
“I think I”ve taken every class he teaches,” said Travis Smith, 23, a political science major from Blackfoot, Idaho. “He”s really accessible to his students. Everything he talks about is tied back to religion; you can tell he has a strong testimony of gospel.”
Gilchrist”s life experiences have helped him understand the value of his education and testimony.
“It doesn”t matter what kind of job I end up with down the road or what salary I have, there is nothing that can buy what I have,” he said. “I think students should study what they love rather than things that they think will get them a good job, and if you have faith, I think the Lord will help you make it pay off. If you are trying to do the right things, and you have the right intentions, then you don”t have to make a choice between what you love and what will pay.”