Last week, I graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems. In an attempt to make this post more than a self-congratulatory indulgence, I’d like to take a moment to represent myself as the “token BYU student” here at Mormon Matters, and offer my thoughts and perspectives about my BYU experience.
I took a fairly typical course: I lived in the dorms (Deseret Towers) as a freshman, took two years off for a mission, came back, got serious about a Major program, and finished it up in 3 additional years (plus some spring and summer classes.)
Overall, I am very pleased with my BYU experience, and look upon it in overwhelmingly positive light. If I may, I’d like to highlight a few of the outstanding parts.
- Freshman dorm life was a blast. Unfortunately, academics occasionally took a backseat that year, but the episodes I experienced with my dorm-mates are truly priceless, and they lead to the formation of some very lasting friendships.
- The mission-prep resources are unparalleled. For a kid getting ready to go on a mission, there are few better environments that the BYU freshman community. Not only are there classes, firesides, etc, but the fact that you are in it with others who are also preparing leads to a great setting to get excited about and prepared for entering the MTC.
- Student employment opportunities. Upon my return from my mission, I was a resident assistant in the dorms. That proved to be a fantastic experience, and I was very happy to be able to share my mission insights with those yet preparing. After that job, I was employed by the International Studies center to be their webmaster. That proved to be very valuable in helping me apply the material from my academic programs into a real world settings (computer programming, database administration, etc) These employment opportunities were also gateways into meeting faculty, getting my name out, etc.
- Off-Campus Environment. While perhaps a bit more rough around the edges, there was a plenitude of events, locations, and other resources off-campus to enjoy a good time. Some of the off-campus apartments were nicer than others, but on a weekend night, there were never shortages of pools/hot tubs, rec rooms, or sport courts to help have something to do.
- Mormon “Celebrities” on Campus. In addition to an Apostle visit to campus each semester, there were opportunities to run into semi-recognizable names on Campus. I more than once ran into Lloyd Newel (think Music and the Spoken Word,) and even met Dan C. Peterson in the back of a lecture hall, and was able to have a nice 20 minute chat with him. My New Testament class teacher was Stephen E. Robinson (“Believing Christ”) who I greatly admire.
- Robust Academic Programs. Most of my course work was at the Marriott School of Management, which consistently receives high marks nationally. I was often overwhelmed by the homework and exams, but I never felt cheated or short changed when it came to the quality of the business school’s academics.
- Affordability. When compared to other university programs nationally, BYU rates are a huge bargain. Thank tithing subsidies for that.
- A Wholesome Environment. Don’t be fooled, you can find pretty much anything at BYU. Yes that may shock you, but its true. However, for those seeking a wholesome and straight-laced lifestyle, BYU is certainly a haven for that. While everyone does develop their own sense and path of spirituality, BYU does provide a sustaining environment for those more or less within mainstream orthodoxy.
I must say however, there were a few times when I was quite significantly irked at certain elements of the BYU system. Without ranting too extensively, let me elaborate:
- The facial hair thing. This topic has been discussed ad-nauseum, so please, refrain from commenting profusely about this, but I have to say I was rather annoyed when I was turned away at the cafeteria for having 24 hours worth of scruff.
- Parking. This is a problem almost anywhere many people congregate, but the students really got the short end of the stick on this one. The faculty get the premium spots, and the students get the lots that require 15 minute walks to campus. Hmm… who’s the customer here again? I ended up just walking, carpooling, busing, or biking most of the time. This was one battle I did not feel like fighting.
- Image Paranoia. Keenly aware of its ambassador status for the Church, BYU is dead set on projecting the “Garden of Eden” image to the world. My positions as BYU employee let me in on a few ins and outs of PR control, and I was disheartened to learn of a few administrative moves involving hush-money and cover-stories for the sake of saving face. Also, while permitted/tolerated, student protests were met with high levels of disapproval from on high, and the tight lipped responses from BYU administrators regarding the relevant issues seemed a bit jarring. (Remember the Dick Cheney graduation incident?)
- The dating scene myth. Its true that many couples meet and marry at BYU. But I had been misled into believing that the girls are all righteous fair maidens with visions of eternal marriage dancing through their heads. That bubble burst fairly early on, but I still never got quite the picture of how things were really supposed to work. I did my fair share of dating, make no mistake, but let me tell you, it’s not what they say it is. I’m still single.
I really could go on for much longer, about the good, and the not-so-good. But let me say again, I am please to call myself a BYU grad, I enjoyed my experience, and I am very grateful for the career and employment paths that it has opened for me. After all, that’s really why I went to college.
I know that BYU isn’t for everyone. I had several close friends who never could hit a stride in the BYU universe, and became casualities of the system. I like to remind people that BYU attendance is NOT a requirement for salvation, and many members of the church get by just fine without ever having set foot in Provo.
For me, I was a close enough match to the “target audience” that I got through the experience without a sour taste in my mouth. Again, I look back on the past 6 years (minus 2 mission years) with satisfaction and accomplishment.
So for you fellow BYU alumns, how does your experience contrast to mine? For non-alumns, how do my comments square up to your concept of what BYU is like for a student? Or just feel free to throw out any comments about BYU in general.