Adam Ruri has gone from KFC in Upper Hutt to the corridors of the United States Congress.
He admits sometimes he has to pinch himself to believe it. Mr Ruri, 25, who has an internship with Senator Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, has swapped frying chicken for researching bills and giving tours of the Capitol Building.
"I'm just this random Maori boy from Upper Hutt who has been helped out so much and I'm so grateful," he told The Dominion Post. In the "awesome journey" to Washington DC, he has been a Mormon missionary in the Australian Outback and was elected president of 30,000 students at the Brigham Young University in Utah and given a US$500,000 budget.
His family attended the Church of the Latter Day Saints but his parents separated and stopped going. At 10, Adam got a lift to services with other Mormons.
He was head boy at Heretaunga College in 2001 and, after a stint at KFC, worked for a bank, saving to become a missionary. More than $10,000 was needed but he came up short till he received an anonymous cheque for $5000.
In Australia he met two fellow missionaries, Americans Jack and Jane Stevens, who told him they would pay for him to go to college. Eventually he took up their offer and three years ago began his business degree at Brigham Young.
He expects to finish in April. "I will be the first Ruri to graduate with a degree." He hopes to study law and complete a masters at Harvard and has had encouragement from Prime Minister John Key, who wrote telling him to grab the opportunity with both hands.
But he remains humble and grateful for his hometown education and for "all the people along the way who have helped me get where I am now".
His dream job is chief executive at Disney, but he is not ruling out New Zealand politics one day.
For now, though, he is revelling in his American dream. "I really can't believe it. Just the other day I was walking round and saw Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mean who gets to do stuff like that? Those are the times I have to pinch myself."
- © Fairfax NZ News