Ripple Effects

What ‘A Friendship Mission’ wrought.

May 2022

Reading time min

Photo of Kevin Bennett and John Coyle

RECONNECTED: Bennett and Coyle Photo: Cheryl Gerber

The July 2021 cover story of Stanford, “A Friendship Mission: The improbable, coincidental and utterly true story of an alum who went missing for 13 years, and the friends who found him,” is testament to the bonds of the alumni community. The article recounts the journey of John Coyle, ’90, and several of his friends as they searched for—and ultimately reunited with—Kevin Bennett, ’90, who was living outdoors in New Orleans.

“It was overwhelming to realize he was still alive,” says Coyle, who flew from his home in Las Vegas to New Orleans the day after receiving a happenstance Facebook message from a photographer there. It took two trips searching in home­less encampments, but when Coyle found Bennett, the lifelong best friends ran into each other’s arms.

“Many amazing things have resulted from the article,” says Coyle in an email to the magazine. “Not least is Kevin reconnecting with friends and fans all over the globe.” And the ripple effects go well beyond the personal.

The two best friends keep in touch weekly and are collaborating on a book of Bennett’s poems.

Bennett continues to struggle with mental health issues, but he is benefiting from stable housing and friends who help him obtain his medication regularly. The article has even helped him return to his career as the published writer that Stanford trained him to become. “I happened to read this warming story about a guy and his friends and then the two poems at the back of the story,” says graduate student Katherine Whatley, an editor of the Stanford literary journal Mantis. “I thought, ‘Holy crap, these poems are amazing.’ ” As a result, Mantis is featuring several of Bennett’s poems this spring.

One reader has asked about retaining the film rights to the story. Another, attorney John Whitelaw, JD ’86, was struck by how Bennett’s “pitifully low” disability payments were being garnished to pay off student debt. “I thought, here was a perfect example of someone falling through the cracks,” says Whitelaw. He has since used Bennett’s story and others like it to secure changes in federal student loan regulations, enabling $5.8 billion in loan forgiveness for those with long-term disabilities. When enacted, the new regulations will allow such individuals to be automatically enrolled in the forgiveness program.

Meanwhile, the two best friends keep in touch weekly and are collaborating on a book of Bennett’s poems. Its early title: “Poems from the Edge of the World.”

Tracie White is a senior writer at Stanford. Email her at

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