Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Benefits of Getting Lost

"It's a dangerous business stepping out your door, if you don't keep your feet there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
-Bilbo Baggins

Let me tell you. When you are at BYU, this becomes not only a dangerous but also a very fun experience. And here's why.

I got to play a harpsichord!

A real, live harpsichord. One of the blessings of living at home was having access to an amazing electric piano--not just a keyboard with four octaves and a tinny tone, but a high quality electric piano. This piano could play the sounds of just about any instrument imaginable, from brass drums to trumpets to a full string orchestra to, yes, a harpsichord. Because of this (and a slight familiarity with Bach), I knew what a harpsichord should sound like.

However, I did not ever expect to actually see one, let alone play one. But life had different plans for me. One day last week, as I was wandering the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center for those not versed in the ways of BYU lingo) looking for a practice room, I ran into one of my friends.

"Hey, what are you doing?" She says.

"I'm taking a voice training class, so I'm looking for a practice room, but all of these are full."

"Have you tried the practice rooms downstairs?"

I hadn't. I didn't even know these downstairs rooms existed! She decided she still had time before her organ lessons started to show me the way. Downstairs we went, and she led me to an imposing door with an electronic lock on it. "The code is *****," and now I've got to get back upstairs for lesson. Bye!"

Slightly nervous, I punched in the code. The lock beeped affirmative and flashed green, and I was in! As I turned on the light, I realized why I hadn't known about these practice rooms; they were for the organ students. There was a full size church organ sitting imposingly in the middle of the room. And, for some inexplicable reason, this little beauty sat nestled in the corner.

I was curious to try the organ, but I couldn't actually get it to turn on (that will be an adventure for another day!) And so, I turned my attention to the diminutive instrument in the corner of the room. It looked old, perhaps even hundreds of years old. My inquiring fingers hit middle C to find, wonder of wonders, the stringy classical sound of a harpsichord.

The whole point of finding a practice room was so that I could sing, but I am perfectly happy with the time I wasted playing Kenneth Cope and Pirates of the Caribbean on the harpsichord.

Life is good!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I sit with my eyes closed, feeling the music as much as hearing it, listening closely to the stately, wonderful rhythm of the piano and the beautiful, familiar tune of the violin. I know this song well, but it seems new to me as I hear it tonight, perhaps because every other time I have heard it I have not been a student at BYU. Chills run up and down my arms as the key changes, and my heart soars with the violin. I remember the words spoken a few minutes earlier by President Madsen: “You belong here. This was no accident, you coming here; there is a purpose and a meaning to your being here right now.”

“Can I ask what in the world is going on here? Those guys are like 25!”

“I think they are closer to 30 actually... well you see, my friend is visiting, and I invited her to dinner, and she brought one of her friends, and this friend of hers brought these two guys--”

“Who are 30?”

“--yes, and they brought their friend too...”

I think I might write a children's book about this evening. I'll call it something catchy, maybe “If you invite an RM to dinner...”

I spent this Sabbath day sitting at the feet of the prophets, almost literally. Once again, I could not imagine being anywhere else in the world than right here, right now.

“Come on Jason! All you, bro!”

I take a deep breath, then start running. I must be crazy, I think to myself as I take a flying leap onto the tarp. Down, down, down I fly; the water is cascading up into my eyes, I can't see; I hear gasps of anticipation above me; suddenly I stop, abruptly and painfully, not at all the way I planned it. I am disoriented, dazed, confused. After a few moments I blink the water out of my eyes and regain my wits. Then I realize that I missed the patch of grass I was aiming for and instead landed, squelching and scraping, in the mud. I stand up slowly, gingerly—my entire front from my chest to my knees is covered in brown, sticky muck. I turn around and raise my arms in triumph.

They cheer.

      1. Weave a pack of bacon together into a mat.

      2. Spread sausage out over the bacon; season to taste

      3. Spread cooked bacon and onions on top of the sausage; season again; apply sauce

      4. Roll the whole thing together, using the bacon mat as a wrapping

      5. Seasonings, sauce. Throw in the oven long enough to cook all the meat.

      6. Enjoy.

(I am so making this!)

Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in the courtyard of the Joseph F. Smith Building (JSFB to those wise in the ways of BYU lingo). I like coming here to eat my lunch in between classes; there is a beautiful fountain, along with trees for shade, and it is a peaceful place to eat. The sky is pure and blue, with big puffy white clouds sprinkled here and there like misplaced castles. I sit here and think about the last few days' classes—about my chemistry teacher singing in a ridiculously deep voice to illustrate the way sound travels in different mediums; my Book of Mormon teacher quoting two of my favorite scriptures in rapid succession; my writing teacher laughing as she talks about her six year old son, who wants to be famous.

It hits me again, not for the first time and certainly not for the last. This is where I belong.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Note: This is the personal essay I wrote for Late Summer Honors, August 19-25.

This morning, as I was walking through campus in sunlight so bright and heavy it seemed almost palpable, as I was admiring the beauty of the gardens and the trees and the buildings, I had a moment of wonderful clarity. I was at Brigham Young University, my dream school, the school I had planned to attend ever since I was old enough to know what a university was; I had arrived!

Frankly, this realization should have hit me days ago. Had I woken up that morning and found myself a college student my surprise might have been understandable, but what really happened is much the opposite. Indeed, my road to BYU started years ago, when I first started to take an interest in the lives of my parents. I would question them on their likes and dislikes, on their moods and thoughts, and on their pasts. Many of their stories involved their years at BYU. This is where they met; this is where they came of age, where they found out who they were and what they wanted, where they made decisions that are shaping their lives--and mine--even today. As I listened to these stories, I decided that one day I would go to BYU, in the same way I decided that I would be president of the United States and drive a Ferrari and marry Emma Watson. Though my decision was simply and perhaps naively made, I proudly told anyone who asked that one day I would be going to the Y.

This juvenile persistence lasted until early in my senior year, when I began to think about what I wanted to study and who I wanted to be. Things started arriving in the mail--pamphlets, fliers, letters, posters, stickers, guides, postcards. I was flattered by the attention, and sought to return the favor by carefully studying the things I was sent, considering the possibilities each flier spoke of. Although I continued to tell people I was going to BYU, my personal resolve weakened, then disappeared altogether as I learned of the multitude of other options available to me.

Through the tide of information coming at me from every direction, I did manage to glean one important fact: I should apply to multiple colleges, however many applications my budget and patience could handle. I needed to branch out into different locations, different themes, different sizes and shapes and mottoes and purposes. The decision of where to actually go came later; what I needed were options. A short time after this realization, I decided it was time to begin filling out my applications. I would apply to BYU, as it was my parents’ alma mater and I was still quite fond of it, and to Utah State as well, where one of the professors was a close friend of my family. I would decide on which other schools to apply to as the process progressed.

I began assembling my information, writing up a list of extracurricular activities and awards. I decided on what was important to me, a home-schooled Mormon boy who had lived in North Carolina his whole life. I wanted a school with strong physics and chemistry programs (even as I write this I am unsure which discipline I will go into), a school where I could develop spiritually, and a school where I could find good friends and eventually a wife. I looked at the pamphlets and the postcards and the team mascots and the catch phrases, and I decided where else I wanted to apply. Along with the previously mentioned pair, I would apply to two other universities. The first of these was the University of Utah, BYU's arch rival. The second was Harvard.

My decision to apply to Harvard was a difficult one. Perhaps the most acclaimed school in the country, and one of the great universities of the world, the name evoked for me images of elite groups of incredibly intelligent people, future surgeons and businessmen and lawyers and statesmen, the cream of the crop, assembled together to seek learning and wisdom at the feet of renowned educators. The thought that I might be worthy to join their ranks, through hard work and an aptitude for test taking, was stimulating. The very real possibility that they would reject me was terrifying. However, I overcame my fears and began the application, completing all of it but the mid-year report. This I would send in several months later, after the first semester of school ended.

My first few acceptances came in, from both the University of Utah and Utah State, two good Utah schools where I would be likely to find friends and companions who would share my beliefs. Soon after receiving my acceptance letter, I realized I did not actually want to go to the University of Utah. I applied there simply because it was in Utah; I had no deeper reason, no great love for its academics or atmosphere. Almost as soon as I was accepted, I declined admission. This narrowed the field down to three colleges, all of which I had good reason to want to attend: BYU, the school of my childhood dreams; Utah State, in beautiful Cache Valley, where I knew a professor; and Harvard, that prestigious convocation of genius. I had not yet been accepted to either BYU or Harvard, but the year was still young and I held out hope.

Once the idea of Harvard had entered my mind, it was hard to remove. It seemed to me that the whole world would be clamoring to employ me if I graduated from Harvard--the coat of arms bearing the word truth would act as some sort of master key, unlocking opportunity after opportunity wherever I went. I began to daydream about the people I might meet, the world-changing conversations we would have.

Today I am left wondering whether I would have been accepted by Harvard, for I terminated the application in its eleventh hour, declining to send in my mid-year report. As quickly as the vision and desire came to me, it was shattered by several cold doses of reality and perspective. The academics of Harvard were, I learned, intensely competitive, for each student desired to be the best at the expense of their peers, and while I looked forward to the challenge of college this type of cutthroat competition was not nearly so attractive. On a financial level, attending Harvard would require obtaining massive student loans which would then take years to pay off. Finally, the moral environment described to me by the Harvard alumnus I consulted was decidedly the opposite of the environment I had envisioned myself in at college. I decided against Harvard.

Around the same time I ceased my Harvard plans, I was accepted to BYU. I now had two schools left to choose between. Both universities had accepted me; both had strong physics and chemistry departments; both had large groups of Mormon students and good moral environments. The playing field was level, each college seeming to have many of the same strengths. Finally, after weeks of writing lists, making comparisons, pondering, praying, and making phone calls, I made my decision, maybe because they sent me clever things in the mail, maybe because they offered me a scholarship months before BYU got around to it, maybe because I simply wanted to have made a decision--I would go to Utah State! I began to think of myself as an Aggie. I put up a sticker on my mirror. I started talking to people who had graduated from Utah State, and a few who were still going there.

Several weeks progressed in this way, until one day I made a discovery. I was apprehensive about my decision, unable to summon full enthusiasm for my future school. The snake of doubt wound its way firmly around my heart, crushing my confidence, making me question my reasons and decisions. What if being flattered by all the mail I received was not a solid reason to choose a college? What if the same was true with their promptness in accepting and scholarshipping me? What would I be missing if I rejected BYU, what spiritual insights and opportunities could I have there that would not be available anywhere else? One night as I sat thinking about my concerns and my future as a student, I reversed my decision. I was not an Aggie, I was a Cougar!

I would love to say that the change was instant, that all shreds of doubt flew from my mind like iron flakes pulled by a magnet, that the pathway has been bright and clear ever since. I would love to say this, but it would be a lie. I have oftentimes been unsure of my decision, wondering if Utah State really was the best choice. However, my confidence has grown, grown in the way a flower grows, slowly and modestly shooting upwards toward the sun, towards peace and surety of mind. It grew enough for me to pack up my shoes and my toothbrush and get on a plane to travel two thousand miles away from my home. It grew enough for me to say goodbye to my family. It grew enough for me to walk onto campus alone, knowing I would get lost a dozen times on the first day.

It grew as I sat in class and listened as my professor taught us that writing essays helps us become like Christ. It grew as I got to know my fellow students and as I felt the strength of the standards we share. It grew as I learned of the history of this place, of the inspiration and sacrifice that created this school. This morning the small, humble bud of my confidence opened to a bright flash of color, of wonder. Like a flower, it bloomed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This Is It

So, I am at BYU.

Brigham Young University.

The Y.

This is my dream school. The school I've wanted to attend all my life. The big kahuna. The end all be all. Throw in a bunch of other cheesy cliché expressions if you wish--the point is, I'm here!

In the weeks leading up to this moment, I:

Said goodbye to my family and got on an airplane with all of my earthly belongings,

Spent $240 in Walmart, because my mom loves me that much,

Did an entire 1-credit class in a 5 days,

Taught Sunday School twice in a singles ward,

Freaked out because of stress,

Got really, really homesick,

Hiked the Y,

Got shy around a girl (yes, me!),

Stayed up past midnight studying,

Had the time of my life.

As I write this, I am sitting in the library (trying to become like the man my grades could be like). Tomorrow will come in a few hours, bringing with it classes and deadlines and plans and parties and surprises that I can't even imagine tonight. But right now, I can sit here in a moment of peace and quiet and think about what brought me here.

I will be posting on this blog a couple times a week from now on. Sometimes I might not write very much, just a picture and a thought. But I will also post personal essays, exceptional papers, and anything and everything that is on my mind. Consider yourself warned.