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PILGRIMAGE TO PROVO

By Mary Lynn Bahr

After the Tuesday morning devotional, traffic on Campus Drive slows as crowds flood back from the Marriott Center. Sidewalks all over campus are packed as nearly 30,000 students hurry to class. Young women line the hallways of the Jesse Knight Humanities Building, chatting as they wait for a favorite professor. Friends greet each other enthusiastically in the Bookstore. There are long lines in the Cougareat, and the Morris Center cafeteria is serving almost 4,000 meals per day. In BYU's largest classrooms, students listen attentively as instructors lecture about financial planning, family science, history, literature, and religion.

Business as usual for BYU? Absolutely. Except that this week the average student is about 40 years old and has paid only $29 tuition. It's Education Week.

"There's nothing else like it," says Neil Carlile, director of Education Week. "We believe it's the largest single-event continuing education program in the country and perhaps the world."

Every August, Education Week participants flock to Provo. They come in cars, planes, and motor homes, from nearly every state and (in 1998) 15 foreign countries. They come solo or in groups, as couples or entire families. They come armed with notebooks, scriptures, and formidable enthusiasm.

"It's an opportunity to be educated by the cream of the crop, the best professors in the world and in the Church," says Christina Anderson of Nibley, Utah. "The whole experience is a real high--I always go home walking off the ground for six months. It's an opportunity for self-improvement that I couldn't get anywhere else."

"This valley is like a little spiritual Mecca," says Scott L. Anderson, an instructor at the Orem Institute of Religion and a long-time Education Week presenter. "People come here and recharge their spiritual batteries. That definitely happens at Education Week."

By 10 a.m. remote parking spaces remain. Although full of vehicles, the RV camping lot west of the Richards Building is nearly empty of people. Ditto for the dorms.

Campus has been invaded by crowds wearing cream-colored name tags. Though it is a bright, hot August day, few meander--this is prime educational time. Most people walk purposefully, pausing only to consult the maps in their ubiquitous blue bulletins. Moving against this current can be hazardous, and the worst pedestrian congestion occurs around the Wilkinson Center. In some years there are more people at Education Week than there are full-time students enrolled at BYU.

Yet these sometimes-competing consumers stay remarkably chipper. "I like running between classes," says Janet Anderson from Great Falls, Mont. "I did have to go to the overflow my first day, but that was OK because I just looked at the walls and listened. I caught on pretty quickly that if you really want a speaker, you just sit in the class before that. I'm amazed at how they've managed all these people and how organized it is. I like the lines and the food and the people and everything."

In many ways, Education Week provides an authentic university experience. Some patrons live in dorms. Like full-time BYU students, they wait in lines for food, rest rooms, book purchases, and popular classes. They carry backpacks, take notes, run across campus, and talk for hours. And they run into friends unexpectedly.

While buying lunch, Doug and June Blackhurst from Nampa, Idaho, saw their long-time friends Tamie and Robert Williams, who live in Boise, Idaho. Though Tamie had come before, 1998 was Robert's first year at Education Week. "He's hooked on it now, too, I think," she says with a smile.

The couples sit around a table in the Cougareat, sharing stories as they eat their sandwiches. "It's like when we were actually going to school at BYU," Robert says. "You'd be around the Wilkinson Center and see someone you know. It's neat to see all of the people that have the same values, want to do what's right, and come here to get inspired."

Inspiring people has been the goal of Education Week since its 1922 beginning as Leadership Week. "It's always been intended to help individuals in their Church callings, their home life, or their professional life," Carlile says. With more than 1,100 classes taught by about 200 presenters, the program has something for everyone.

"We've been going to classes all day long," says Ilene Luker from South Jordan, Utah. "A Book of Mormon class, how to be more creative, a class on attitude. I went to a class about the Prophet Joseph Smith; my husband went to a couple of investment and financial classes. We ended with 'Communicating with Adult Children,' because we have three of those. We start with the 8:30 a.m. class and go through till 7 p.m."

The Lukers' packed schedule is not unusual. "It's not a restful vacation," says Christina Anderson. "You run around and feed your brain from morning till night. The whole thing is exhausting, but it's really exhilarating too."

Education Week patrons may be 16 or 60. Though about half of them live in Utah, there are sizable contingents from most western states, and some regular patrons live thousands of miles from Provo. Their backgrounds and interests vary widely, but they share a voracious appetite for knowledge.

"Life's demands seem to take people away from learning," says C. Terry Warner, a BYU philosophy professor and regular Education Week presenter. "They get married and get jobs and the press of life just keeps them from learning. The hunger grows--they don't even realize how much it grows. And when they get back in a learning environment they just love it."

Many of those who teach at Education Week return to campus as enthusiastically as do the patrons. "There couldn't be a better place to teach," says Scott Anderson, who has taught at Education Week since 1981. "The patrons are so faithful, and they come with such testimony and so much enthusiasm, that I feel lifted and encouraged."

About 40 percent of those who teach at Education Week are BYU faculty; another 15 percent are seminary and institute instructors, and most of the rest are local professionals. In addition to the 200 presenters, each year about 500 volunteers help things run smoothly. And of course feeding, parking, and housing 30,000 patrons involve hundreds of BYU employees. "Education Week is probably the premier example of how the university shares its resources with members of the Church beyond Provo," says Carlile. "It's a marvelous university-wide effort."

In recent years the program's reach has expanded, as selected lectures have been broadcast over KBYU and the Church satellite network. In 1998 20 hours of lectures were broadcast to an audience that averaged more than 66,500 viewers and listeners. "Our goal is to provide educational opportunities for as many people as possible," Carlile says.

People come to Education Week for the first time because relatives bring them, because friends invite them, or because a neighbor has spent an entire year talking about it. They come because they love to learn, because they enjoy campus, or because they desperately need time away from home to reflect and refocus. They return consistently, faithfully--even religiously--to renew their energy and drink in the Spirit. Some participants plan their year around that crucial week in August.

"In 1977 I went to a party with my friend," says Maureen John from Emmett, Idaho. "I had just married a man who had four children; I had two children. We were talking about the problems of blending families, and my friend said, 'I know what you need. You need Education Week.' I said, 'What's Education Week?' So she brought me to Education Week the first year."

In 1977 Maureen John was one of about 14,500 Education Week participants; in 1998 she was one of nearly 30,000, her friends and daughters among them. Her story reveals the key to the program's growth: word-of-mouth advertising. "I went home and told my sister, 'You need Education Week.' And so she came. Through the years I've brought members from my ward, and finally my daughters got old enough to come. We just keep coming."

Education Week engenders remarkable loyalty among people from many regions and generations. Lenore Scoville McNaughton may hold the record for Education Week attendance. Now 88, she began attending Education Week 46 years ago, when it was called Leadership Week and was held in June. At that time many classes were designed for stake leaders and taught by general Church officers. "I was the stake Relief Society president for nine years," she says. "And my name was the first one on the list because it was the Alberta Stake. I was called in 1952, and I never missed after that." She adds, "I felt that it was my obligation to my family and as a Church leader to provide the best leadership and learning that I could to fulfill my responsibility to my Heavenly Father. I felt that listening at Education Week was the answer."

Over the years she has filled notebooks and collected quite a stack of Education Week bulletins. One of her favorite lessons was about Joseph who was sold into Egypt. "I've used that all my life in teaching my children," she says.

McNaughton still lives in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, and she has made the 800-mile trip to Provo with her children, members of her stake Relief Society board, and many of her grandchildren. Her extended family now gathers for Education Week, staying together in a condominium near campus.

And she remains as enthusiastic as ever. McNaughton's daughter Eileen Baird, herself a 20-year veteran of Education Week, worried about her aging mother this year. "Yesterday I said, 'Now Mother, maybe you'll get tired and you'll want to go home,'" Baird explains. "When I saw her about five hours after that, she looked a lot better. I said, 'Mother, you don't look like you've withered at all.' And she said, 'Oh no, these classes--they just perk me up.'"

"There's so much here, so much intelligence and knowledge of people who have spent their lives in this work," McNaughton says. "You can't wait to get home and tell your kids about it--and your friends. I tell them all the time to come down because I get so much out of it, so much inspiration to help my children. The teachers are so inspirational, you've got enough to last you for a year. And then you can't wait to get back."

Sheri Houston of Layton, Utah, has been coming back to Education Week for a dozen years. "When I first started coming I was in Colorado, and I was hungering for more spiritual food," she says. "So I started coming with a friend and have come every year since."

Houston sits on the floor in a hallway of the JKHB. She is one of many women with the same objective: finding a seat in a favorite class. Leaning against the tiled walls, they discuss insights they have gained from the first two sessions of this now-essential class--which will begin in exactly 23 minutes. As soon as the doors open, they rise almost in unison, prepared to sprint for the classroom if necessary.

The impact of Education Week cannot be adequately measured in the numbers of repeat registrations. Nearly everyone finds Education Week energizing, but for some patrons it is life-changing.

"I came because a friend signed me up, but it was timely because I had decided to apostatize from the Church," one woman says. "I've been a member all my life, I've served in every possible calling, and I felt I couldn't make the grade anymore. The first day I was here, I prayed fervently that someone would soften my heart, and when I came to this class, it was what I needed. So I'm not going to quit. I came in a crisis and I'll go home to a crisis, but at least I'll go home with some ammunition to deal with my crisis."

A sense of having been rescued from disaster and fortified for the future is not unusual."As a mom I give so much all year long," says Cindy Latimer of Orem, Utah. "There isn't a lot of time for yourself. I feel like I'm living nine lives, and there comes a point where you think, 'Mine is the one least lived.'"

Latimer first came to Education Week at a time when, she says, "My cup was empty. You sometimes feel like you're not being effective, almost like you're failing. I was feeling discouraged as a mom, and there were classes that gave me some new things to try with my children, new ideas for traditions, new spiritual goals that I could set with my family. I came back feeling ready to be a good mom again. Education Week has sometimes been the very thing that has given me the fuel to go on for another year."

A few small clouds flare pink and gold, and a rich afterglow burnishes Y Mountain. Light from the summer sunset warms the windows of the motor homes in the parking-lot-turned-campground west of the Richards Building. Couples returning from campus sink wearily into lawn chairs. Some share their notes while others silently digest the day's information. Trees and lampposts cast long shadows across the asphalt. Teenagers play card games. Families eat sandwiches and macaroni salads.

Ada Mae Griffin first came to Education Week more than 20 years ago. She has returned often, bringing her daughters and grandchildren and, after his retirement, her husband Eldon. At first the Griffins stayed in dorms or hotels, but since buying a motor home they have always camped in the RV camping area on campus. "It's been fun watching these trees grow up in the parking lot over the years," Eldon says. "You could hardly find shade under them when we started coming."

Like other long-time patrons, the Griffins have rich Education Week memories. "The first couple of years we had baby-sitters for the little kids, and the two girls and I came," Ada Mae says. "Those were fun years."

"We've always had a lot of fun camping out in the parking lot because we meet a lot of people," adds Christina Anderson, the Griffins' daughter. "My parents have met friends of theirs from Illinois, and we make new friends. Besides educating yourself in the classes it's fun that way."

Nineteen-year-old Nicole Anderson sums up the Griffin clan's Education Week tradition in four words: "Love it, coming again."

Steven Harmon from Green River, Wyo., might say the same. His parents, Teri and David Harmon, bring some of their children to Education Week every year. "We appreciate the opportunity it gives us to give our children the benefits of being with other good youth in the Church," David says. But in 1998 16-year-old Steven faced a tough decision.

"I almost didn't come because I was going to play football," he says. "I prayed about it--if I should play football or if I should come to Ed. Week. Monday I still didn't know what I was going to do."

Steven is an excellent athlete, and his coaches wanted him to stay home and practice with the team. For some boys, Education Week wouldn't stand a chance against football, especially when a spot in the starting lineup was at stake. But Steven's first time at Education Week was one of the greatest weeks of his life, and he wanted to come back. The choice wasn't easy.

He first decided to attend Education Week, but the coaches coaxed him back. Then, he says, "I got my answer in the middle of practice, that everything would work out if I went to Ed. Week." His mom explains, "The coaches were so happy to have him back that they let him come to Education Week."

Steven brought along his cousin Josh Harmon, also 16. They spent much of their time with Steven's friends Sam West and Arlin Moen, both 16.

"Arlin isn't LDS, but I got him to come last year because we became pretty good friends," Sam says. "And I think last year was the most spiritual year we've had. We went from the first class to the last class without a break. He felt the Spirit a lot and then he went home and told his mom all about it." In 1998 Arlin's mother and sister, both members of the LDS Church, came with him to Education Week.

About one-fifth of those who make the Education Week pilgrimage are youth ages 14 to 18. Many, like the boys from Wyoming, come with their families. Others come with friends, eager to see BYU or socialize with other LDS teens.

"Education Week is different from other opportunities for the youth," says Scott Anderson, who teaches youth classes. "They feel a high energy level, and they're excited about their association with each other. At the same time we can focus specifically on youth topics and work to translate the scriptures and the gospel into the life of a young person. Many write back and say, 'This was a turning point for me.'"

The boys from Wyoming would likely agree. "Today I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life," says Josh, who lives in Mountain View, Wyo. "There was a congregation of probably thousands of kids our age, and we all sang 'I am a Child of God.' I didn't get one word out because there were tears in my eyes. The Spirit was so strong--it's the greatest feeling I've ever had. And now I can tell you that one of the best choices I've ever made was to come to Education Week."

Whether they have previously attended BYU or not, Education Week participants come to campus as to a place that carries rich cultural memories. Some do come with a homing instinct, returning to the acres they walked as students. But others come with a deeper need, a desire to flock with sheep from their own fold. For Latter-day Saints from areas outside the Mountain West, Education Week provides a taste of the strength that comes in numbers.

"For me, it's a chance to run away to Mormon culture," says Suzy Cardall from Laguna Hills, Calif. "My first impression when I came this time was that there was a big conduit of spirit coming down from the sky. As I walk around, the people are delightful to me. It's like being in Zion."

Pat Pearson from Derbyshire, England, had a similar impression. In 1998 she traveled to the United States with other sisters from the Manchester Stake. After visiting Church history sites, they came to Utah for Education Week. One of her significant experiences occurred after an evening performance. "As I was walking along, I was thinking, 'It's so reverent here.' I mean, there are 30,000 people in this camp, and for this number of people, it was so quiet and people were so friendly. I thought, 'It shows this Church is true.' It really impressed me to see so many young people walking about, and they're friendly to each other, which is very unusual. Out in the world they're usually spoiling for a fight. It's wonderful to think that this is here and that the youth are so faithful. It's like a taste of Zion."

South Africans Annette and Neville Van Rooyen may have traveled farther than anyone else to attend the 1998 Education Week. It's at least 10,000 miles from Johannesburg to Provo.

"It's been a life's dream for me and my husband to come and see how the Church functions in Salt Lake," says Annette. She knew of Education Week because she works for the Church Educational System in South Africa. And when friends invited them to visit Utah, the Van Rooyens included Education Week in their plans.

"I've come to glean as much knowledge as I can to take back to my Relief Society sisters," Annette says. "I get quite emotional when I think about it--the joy of being able to have this knowledge and to go back and share it with them. I write down every little detail when it happens so I can capture that feeling."

"Being here in Utah Valley has certainly helped me to put into perspective the teachings of the gospel," says Neville, who joined the Church in 1962. "I have a strong testimony, and I've loved every aspect of working in the Church. But having been here I have a different idea of exactly how it came about. It's given me a wider perspective as to how to go about teaching and spreading the gospel better than I've done in the past, and that's exciting to me."

"I love how the Church develops the full human being," Annette adds. "That has been brought out to me by this Education Week. It's incredible how they're catering for social, emotional, financial--all the areas. I just marvel at the completeness of it."

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