Commentary

A Decade of Change

An aspiring lawyer reflects on nearly 10 years at BYU.

man and overlook
NOTE: This essay won the 2006 BYU Magazine student essay contest. The theme was Enter to Learn.

BYU’S law school and the main campus across the street are—for me—two separate worlds. It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, I was a BYU undergrad rushing from class to class, shuffling into the Twilight Zone to buy a bagel, then sprawling out on the grass in front of the HFAC as if it were Cancun. That’s all changed. Now I spend my days hunched over my carrel in the law library, studying cases and navigating the exciting world of mortgage subrogation law.

Nowadays, the nearest thing to contact I have with the “other side” of campus is when the bumper of my car comes perilously close to freshmen crossing from Heritage Halls to the HFAC. I blame the near misses on my own status as “one of those California drivers” coupled with their eagerness to make it to American Heritage on time. Whenever that happens—my car stopping just short of their pink backpacks, iPods, and Seven jeans—I can’t help but think how much those freshmen have to look forward to (provided my brakes keep working).

When I finally put on my cap and gown, I will have been here seven years. Factor in two years for my mission, and it’s been uncomfortably close to a full decade since I first stepped foot on BYU’s campus wearing Doc Marten boots and a plaid shirt (remember, it was 1996). Since then, things have changed.

What’s now part of the Lee Library was then just a hole so deep I wondered if BYU was opening a Beijing campus. Instead of watching Bronco Mendenhall coach in LaVell Edwards Stadium, I watched LaVell Edwards (EdD ’78) coach in Cougar Stadium. Rather than Divine Comedy, the show to see was the Garrens Comedy Troupe. I sat on the floor of the not-yet-remodeled Wilk for five hours to get tickets to the edited version of Jerry Maguire at the Varsity Theatre. Indeed, a lot has changed at BYU over the last decade, especially for me.

I went from studying political science to film to communications to English. Now I’m a law student. The mass of curly hair atop my head evolved into a buzz cut in an attempt to hide my receding hairline and bald spot, all while my waistline expanded. Despite all that, my roommate’s sister’s roommate became my girlfriend and then my wife.

BYU has taught me much academically, but the most important lessons didn’t come in the classroom. They came during late-night conversations with roommates, amid basketball games in the Smith Fieldhouse, and while throwing seasoned french fries across the table in the Creamery. I learned tolerance dealing with the roommate who thought turning the water heater off was the best way to protest a high utility bill, discovered patience waiting four years after my mission to meet my eternal companion, and gained compassion when macular degeneration endangered a close friend’s eyesight.

Somehow, during the last decade, I went from being a curly-haired freshman in a plaid shirt listening to Pearl Jam on my walkman to someone who is actually capable of representing clients as a lawyer, who doesn’t care that much about his rapidly vanishing hair, and who is prepared to one day be a father. As much as BYU has changed during the last 10 years, the greatest changes I’ve seen have been within me.

And BYU will surely keep on changing. Something, for example, has to be done with the Knight Mangum Building. But physical changes barely hint at the magnitude of change actually taking place within each student. While the freshmen blindly dashing in front of my bumper may have an inkling of what is in store for them at BYU, it’s impossible to fully anticipate just how amazing and life-changing an experience it can be. For every new building or renovation on campus, thousands of lives are shaped and molded for eternity.

Richard Salgado received a law degree from BYU in April and is now a clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Austin, Texas.


 

Learning To Fly

By Trevor W. Higbee (’07)

With nearly two decades of half-answered questions, a student approaches BYU with lofty expectations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay won second place in the 2006 BYU Magazine student essay contest.

When I was a boy, I wanted to fly.

We lived in Dallas near a small municipal airport, and on Saturdays my dad and I would set up a couple of folding chairs outside the airport’s fence and watch planes take flight. Each plane would add itself to the queue at the far end of the facility and wait its turn. As the planes left the line one by one, they would lumber their way to the far end of the landing strip and await authorization from the flight tower.

Each takeoff seemed like a different plot whose rising action began when the rumbling engine turned to a violent growl. As the rickety planes battled and shook their way toward the end of the runway, my interest in the story escalated. The story line climaxed as the springs on the wheels decompressed, the front wheels left the ground still spinning, and the rattling and roar of the plane gave way to the grace and beauty of flight.

I remember asking my dad how it all worked. It couldn’t have been just speed. I had ridden pretty fast in the back seat of our Malibu station wagon, and although I still remember the rattling and roar of that engine, I don’t ever remember getting off the ground. My dad started by explaining concepts that I could understand—velocity, wind speed. But by the end of our conversation, he left my 7-year-old mind with more questions than answers. High pressure? Low pressure? Wing dynamics? I took my dad’s word for it and turned my attention back to the stories being played out on the runway.

As I left for college 12 years later, I still had questions that, in my mind, had not been fully resolved. I still wasn’t quite sure how planes flew or how governments grew or how God so loved the world. I could talk about air pressure or checks and balances. And I could point you to John 3:16. But for all these fragments of disjointed knowledge, I still had unanswered questions and yearned for a cohesive understanding of the world around me.

During the course of my first semester at BYU, my professors systematically answered more than a dozen of the half-answered questions I had taken two decades to form. My Physical Science professor finally taught me the why’s and how’s of low pressure, high pressure, and wing dynamics. American Heritage brought bits of knowledge from school, parents, and Scouting into a comprehensible and cohesive whole. And during my first semester of Book of Mormon, I began piecing together an understanding of God’s love for the world.

This initial BYU experience served as the capstone and climax of my adolescent learning experience. Fragments of unfinished knowledge from disparate sources fused together to complete my understanding of things learned as a child.

But the latter part of my BYU learning experience has been something greater than the sum of responses to unanswered adolescent questions. Since that first semester, I have worked with professors who possess no answers but who have questions that direct their efforts. At devotionals I have learned to love the nuggets of knowledge gleaned from higher education. And along the way, I’ve formed more questions to be answered in my adult life.

I’m not quite sure what stage of flight the story of my life is in. I may still be at the beginning of that queue, waiting for clearance. Or I might be revving my engine at the far end of the runway. But I don’t think God limits us to one flight per life. Rather, a life of learning well lived begins on one runway, stops at others on the way, and culminates in the grace and beauty of flight.

Trevor Higbee is an information systems major from Plano, Texas.


 

Instant Energy Expert

By Julia E. DeLong (’07)

As an intern in a foreign embassy, a BYU student finds out just how much she’s learned.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay won third place in the 2006 BYU Magazine student essay contest.

That morning when I got to work, I found a note from Jeff on my desk: no matter what else I had to finish up in the last week of my internship, this assignment was more important and I had to take care of it now. Despite our having mentioned the situation several times, Washington had suddenly decided that today was the day to become alarmed by Hungary’s proposal to join together two oil pipelines, through which the country would be able to import oil from Iran through Russia. This proposal had been in the air for months. Why was Washington noticing it only now, on the second-to-last day of my internship at the U.S. embassy in Hungary, when I was frantically tying up other loose ends?

“Oh well,” I thought, “when you work with Foreign Service officers, you are always at the beck and call of the government.” They needed a report on the implications of this proposal for Hungary and its relationship with Russia, and they needed it now. I opened my file drawer, pulled out a few things, and began to write: “There are two oil pipelines that end in Hungary: the Friendship, or Southern Druzhba pipeline, that runs westward through Ukraine, and the Adriatic pipeline that comes from Krk Island on Croatia’s coast.”

When I had arrived at the U.S. embassy nine weeks earlier, Jeff had assigned me to prepare a series of reports on Hungary’s energy sector. I had had to start from scratch in my research because I knew absolutely nothing about the subject. While I spoke Hungarian already from my student-exchange year in high school, I didn’t have the vocabulary for this kind of discussion. I was immediately daunted by my assignment: Hungary was about to execute some especially spectacular economic acrobatics in their efforts to privatize their energy sector, and this was my first experience with research that involved more than looking up a few scholarly articles and saying something clever about them.

For the first four weeks or so of my internship, I simply attended the daily press briefings, went along on visits to industrial leaders and politicians, and looked through the daily newspapers for relevant information. I searched the Internet for background information and waded through some appallingly boring technical reports published by the Hungarian government on energy policy.

My internship was almost halfway over before I began to even comprehend what was going on. At that point I began taking notes on what I learned and clipping out news articles. I eventually set up my own appointments with officials at the various energy-industry companies and met with them one-on-one, trying to get my questions answered. It took so long for me to even begin to understand the energy sector that I didn’t actually start writing my reports until the last week of my internship.

But by the last week, I understood the energy sector so well that when that note from Jeff appeared on my desk, I sat down, pulled out my relevant notes, and immediately began to write. In less than an hour I had two dense paragraphs, and I leaned back in my chair and considered how far I had come from the ignoramus I was when I arrived. I had said pretty much all there was to say on the issue.

I e-mailed my summary to Jeff, and, just a few minutes later I got a copy of the e-mail he sent on to Washington, which consisted of my two paragraphs exactly as I had written them with only the added complimentary footnote: “From our Hungarian-speaking, instant energy expert.” I was so proud. My work was actually being put to use by people who had a real say in our foreign policy. Later that day Jeff thanked me for my little report and said it was proof that I had figured out what working in an embassy is all about.

Julia DeLong is an economics major from Anoka, Minn.