By Brenda Williams McKenna
EDITOR'S NOTE: This essay was the second-place winning entry to the 2004 BYU Magazine student essay contest.
A student partakes of the struggles, progression, and joy available at BYU.
From a young age, Ive noticed small wonders. I stared right into the eight eyes of a loose tarantula, read books on magic peaches and trumpeter swans, and, at age 4, discovered the joy of scribbling my first name (although my mom suggested I try writing on paper instead of the wall). As a child I found that wonder is generally a simple thing, learned through basic observation and held close for years afterward. It is something of beauty, something of faith, something so subtly powerful it can make people better merely because theyve caught a glimpse.
Initially I came to BYU expecting less of wonder and more of raw instantaneous change. I wanted intelligent professors and well-cultured friends. I wanted to obtain a British (or possibly Irish) accent while learning to speak Hebrew and read Greek. I wanted to be a doctor, a veterinarian, and an astronaut by turns, and in my hazy early thoughts about college, I imagined it was a place where I would attend class one day and find myself transformed. Never before had I experienced roommates, professors, cooking all my own meals, or paying all my own bills. Never before had I experienced finals or the satisfaction that comes from fixing my own computer hardware. Never before had I dreamed of the heady mixture of cultures and subjects, the subtle influences of the classes I would take and the people I would come to love.
Never before had I fully realized the work, the struggles, and the wonders that would make up my experience at Brigham Young University.
I drove more than 900 miles from Seattle to Provo to live in a closet-like room with a girl Id never met. The first wonder of my college career came on the day when, after hours of games and movies and talk, I realized that Molli had become more than a roommateshed become a friend.
I felt wonder the day I ate ice cream while discussing literature with a professorand found her charming, personable, and even fun. I discovered relief, after visiting another university over Christmas break, in returning to a dormitory atmosphere that didnt reek of drugs and alcohol, where I could sleep Saturday mornings without hearing drunken laughter in the halls. Often I noticed the quiet rustle of the trees as I walked through crisp air to microbiology or to International Cinemas Il Postino or to meet a boy for a date where (strangely enough) he would pay for the dubious privilege of spending an evening with me.
I didnt feel any different, fundamentally, after those first few months of BYU. And after four semesters I still cant read an ancient manuscript or talk in a language more complex than basic Spanish. And yet Ive discovered that statistics can lie and that luck, in science, can lead to the truth. Ive gained a new appreciation for the words of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Richard Selzer. The most lasting wonders Ive experienced were in the face of Molli when I cleaned my side of the room or the joy of my future husband when I accepted his proposal on the top of Y Mountain.
BYUs influence hasnt rushed through to transform my very being, but Ive improved all the samebecause of challenging courses and worthy friends, the spirit of a testimony meeting in the law building, and the pealing of bells as I exit another devotional. When, in my sophomore year, I started reading Barbara Kingsolver, I realized shed accurately summarized my university experience when she wrote, Maybe life doesnt get any better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what were willing to find: small wonders, where they grow (Gods Wifes Measuring Spoons Small Wonder: Essays [New York: Harper Collins, 2002] vol. 2, p. 264).
Im a witness to small wonders and small changes for the better. Ive seen the struggles, the progression, and the joy possible at BYU. Ive seen meals given to a young mother whod lost her child and cookies made for a neighbor just because. Ive seen bookstore bills and ward prayers and the magic of science and music, art and language. And its worth it. The initial fear, money, and growing pains are more than outweighed by the progress, learning, and people you meetthe people you come to love. I am a witness that it doesnt take raw, instantaneous change to make a person betterit merely takes a handful of wonders and a willingness to look up and see. For in looking, in questioning, in reading a few transient words, Ive caught a vision of what is the stuff of life itself.
And I am better for the glimpse.