The First Year: Great Expectations - Y Magazine
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen

The First Year: Great Expectations

Meet the six freshmen BYU Magazine will follow for the next year. 

Can you remember? Remember how your heart raced as you opened your mailbox and pulled out an envelope from BYU with your name on it? Do you recall high fives and hugs and tears in your parents’ eyes? Remember the questions that stirred in your head: Where will I live? What will I study? Who will I become? Can you still feel the emotional stew—equal parts anxiety, giddiness, and wonder—that simmered inside you as you stood at the frontier between where you had been and where you were going? Can you call to mind the decisions, habits, and friendships made during your freshman year of college that changed everything that has come since?

Every year thousands of students undergo that same metamorphosis from accomplished high schooler to uncertain BYU freshman. In many ways, today’s freshmen look a lot like and feel much as you did. Stats on the 2008 crop of admitted students (see article sidebars) reveal a faithful, high-achieving bunch, not quite ready to be entirely on their own. Sound familiar? Then again, today’s new students are preparing to enter a very different world than the one their parents encountered, with changing technologies; growing moral, spiritual, and economic challenges; and a dizzying array of possibilities to choose from. How will their experiences compare to yours?

Here BYU Magazine introduces six new students, freshly accepted and full of anticipation to begin at BYU in the fall of 2008, one year ago. They come from a variety of backgrounds—from a convert raised in small-town Montana to a Finnish violinist to a lifelong Cougar from the heart of Happy Valley. As if in real time, a series of articles over the next year will share the growing pains and trials, the adventures and misadventures, and the joys and triumphs of the freshman year.

Feedback: Send comments on this story to

Adam Jones 2009

A singer in high school, Adam Jones chose BYU for its vocal jazz program.


Hometown and High School: Layton, Utah; Northridge High School

Applied To: BYU, BYU–Idaho, and Utah State

Major Plans: Vocal jazz

Interests and achievements: Eagle Scout and honor student; plays guitar, piano, trumpet, and percussion (was a member of his school’s marching band drum line); sang in high school jazz choir, was president of the a cappella choir, and performed song parodies in school assemblies; acted in musicals every year of high school (once as Javert in Les Miserables); worked at an ice cream shop.

Plans to Bring to Provo: His Power Rangers blanket

Jazzed About the Cougars: Adam wanted to go to BYU for as long as he can remember. “When I was just a little kid, I was wearing BYU diapers and such,” he says. “Both my parents went to BYU and have always been Cougar fans. So they raised me right.”

Adam Jones Family

Adam’s interest was bolstered when his high school choir had an exchange with the BYU jazz program. “I’ve always had a passion for jazz, and I got to know the professor pretty well, so I thought I’d go to the Y and continue in jazz studies.” Later, he took a day off school for a BYU campus tour. “I just wanted a reason to have a school-excused sluff day,” he explains. “But I remember being really intimidated and just overwhelmed at the idea of coming to the Y. I was really nervous. I was leaving high school, where I felt like a top dog, and diving into a much larger pool.”

BYU Bound: When Adam applied to BYU, he was in the middle of Les Miserables and choir performances. A lot of his close friends were also applying, and he helped them to complete their applications. “I frequently had to remind them of papers in the application process,” he says. “I got so caught up in helping so many of my friends apply that I barely made it to the post office on the day of the deadline.”

Adam calls the day he was accepted to BYU “the best day ever.” When he got an e-mail from BYU notifying him that his application status had changed, he went to check it out online, repeating this mantra in his head: “I’m happy if I don’t make it. I’m happy if I don’t make it. I’m not going to be depressed my entire life.” His mom and brother were nearby, enjoying a quiet afternoon at home. “When I saw that I had made it,” he says, “I just stood up and threw my arms up in the air and started screaming at the top of my lungs.” His mom and brother ran in, asking, “What’s up? What are you doing?” Adam beamed at them, “I got accepted!” After a moment of familial jumping around and shouting, Adam reports that he then “ran outside the house and around the block screaming, ‘I’m going to BYU!’”

—Michael R. Walker (BA ’90)

Sini-Tuulia Sohkanen

Though Provo is far from her family in Finland, violinist Sini-Tuulia Sohkanen felt at home – like she fit in – at BYU when she visited for her School of Music audition.


Hometown and High School: Mikkeli, Finland; Eira High School for Adults and the Helsinki Conservatory

Applied To: BYU and Finland’s Sibelius Academy

Major Plans: Violin performance

Interests and Achievements: Received first violin at age 5; two-time finalist in the National Violin Competition; has performed in eight countries; speaks four languages (Finnish, English, German, Swedish); can out-fish her brothers; makes a mean meatball; cooks everything from scratch.

Plans to Bring to Provo: Diabetes meds (free to her in Finland, far from free in the United States)

Independent Woman: At age 14 Sini-Tuulia (pronounced “See Knee Doolia”) Sohkanen moved out of her parents’ house to live three hours away in the nation’s capital, Helsinki—closer to better teachers. “My mom was scared, of course,” Sini-Tuulia says, but her violin teacher told them that Sini-Tuulia would have to move to keep progressing.

In Helsinki Sini-Tuulia lived with two roommates, one 15 and one 23, until their party lifestyle led her to move into her own apartment at age 17. “It was, like, one room with a little kitchen and a shower so tiny you needed to stand in the corner so you didn’t get the whole bathroom wet!” Sini-Tuulia says. The best part was when all six of her family members would come to stay the night. “They would come to Helsinki for stake conferences or a temple trip or just to visit. The whole place was covered with mattresses.”

Sini-Tuulia Family

Not Your Typical High School: One of Sini-Tuulia’s high school classmates was 80 years old. “Most of the students were around 30,” she says, explaining that in Finland there are two options for secondary education: lukio, similar to high school in the United States, or ammattikoulu, vocational school. Sini-Tuulia’s life in Helsinki was a blend of the two; she attended a music conservatory, fitting in traditional classes at a lukio for adults. Finnish and English were required subjects, to which Sini-Tuulia added German and Swedish. “I read the Harry Potters in Swedish and German,” she says.

Not Different: Sini-Tuulia often served at the missionary outreach center in Helsinki—where she met just about every missionary serving in Finland. An elder from Sandy, Utah, was the first to put the BYU bug in her ear. She applied, despite knowing that universities in Finland are free and having already been accepted to Finland’s Sibelius Academy—one of the largest music universities in Europe. “It’s not Julliard, but you could compare it to that,” Sini-Tuulia says.

When it came time to audition for acceptance into BYU’s School of Music, Sini-Tuulia could have just mailed a tape. Instead, in January 2008 she flew to the United States to visit campus. “Probably if I hadn’t come all the way out, I wouldn’t be [at BYU],” she says. During her two-week stay, Sini-Tuulia navigated the Harris Fine Arts Center and played in orchestra rehearsals and performance classes. “We started the master class with a prayer,” she recalls. “It was the first time in my life to feel like I wasn’t different. I didn’t have to defend myself and my beliefs; I didn’t have to explain why I don’t do certain things, or why I do do certain things. The Church part, that was just awesome. I guess that’s why I could see myself [at BYU].”

—Brittany Karford Rogers (BA ’07)

Mitch Staley

For Mitch Staley, the hardest part of choosing BYU was choosing to leave beloved Montana.


Hometown and High School: Dillon, Mont.; Beaverhead County High School

Applied To: BYU and BYU–Idaho

Major Plans: Business strategy

Interests and Achievements: Hunting (deer, elk, bear, duck, geese—you name it); GOP politics (founded a high school politics club and served as a vice chair of the county Republican committee); was a page in Montana’s house of representatives; AP classes in history, English, and psychology; played high school golf; has type 1 diabetes.

Plans to Bring to Provo: A cooler full of beef

Finding His Voice: A quiet fifth-grader listened intently as his teacher bemoaned the outcome of the recent presidential elections, saying George W. Bush hadn’t fairly won. She must have appreciated the boy’s rapt attention, but she couldn’t have guessed where it would lead.

Too shy to disagree, Mitch Staley nevertheless felt something ignite inside him. This spark was kindled as he considered the political world around him, including the events of Sept. 11. “In middle school I exploded,” he says. “And freshman year I was a complete tyrant.”

Mitch Staley HuntingHis fire for politics led him, as a 14-year-old, to write letter after letter to the editor of the Dillon Tribune. His determined stances elicited spirited and lengthy responses from other readers and impressed the editor, who began interviewing Mitch when he needed a viewpoint for a political story. This gave Mitch a regular voice in the paper.

At the end of his junior year, Mitch founded his school’s U.S. Politics Club. His senior year, with state and national elections cycles revving up, he invited all the candidates for state offices to a forum at his school. Most came.

His enthusiasm landed him a vice chairman position in the Beaverhead County Republican Party, for which he was the chair of publications and a speaker at many an election-year rally for state and national candidates.

Learning Religion: Coming from a part-member family, Mitch was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and hadn’t thought much about BYU until he was 16. That’s when his Mormon cousin and hunting partner Kevin decided to serve a mission.

Sending Kevin off at the MTC was an extended family affair, and the clan made the trek to Provo. Mitch had respected the Latter-day Saints he knew in his family and community, but the MTC was his first encounter with a large group of Church members. “You could tell that they should be admired, looked up to,” he recalls. “That was pretty overwhelming there.” The family capped their Provo visit with a trip to the bustling BYU Bookstore. “Coming [to Provo] changed everything,” he says. “I never realized [the Church] was this big, that there were this many people.”

After they returned to Dillon, Mitch’s grandparents noticed an encouraging trend—he kept stealing a copy of the Book of Mormon from their home. They worked up the courage to ask if he was interested in meeting with the missionaries. He was, and he joined the Church a month later.

As a new convert, Mitch found that BYU quickly became part of his identity—and wardrobe. “In small towns, BYU clothes are what Mormons wear,” he says. When it came time to apply for college, he had only two destinations in mind, BYU and BYU–Idaho. When the acceptance letter came, he was thrilled for reasons academic and ecclesiastical.

“I needed the religion classes to boost my [gospel] knowledge,” he says. “I needed to grow in the Church and my religion.”

—Peter B. Gardner (BA ’98)

A ballroom dancer in high school, Ashley Falcon also interned in a first-grade class. She plans to pursue elementary education at BYU.

A ballroom dancer in high school, Ashley Falcon also interned in a first-grade class. She plans to pursue elementary education at BYU.


Hometown and High School: Kent, Washington; Kentridge High School

Applied to: BYU

Major Plans: Elementary education

Interests and Achievements: Ballroom dance; part of a multicultural dance club that performed for schools in the school district; volunteered as a teacher in a preschool and interned in a first-grade class; part Native American (Chippewa).

Plans to Bring to Provo: Her Spider-Man blanket and a set of miniature plastic dinosaurs

Waking Up to Religion: Religion wasn’t a major part of Ashley Falcon’s growing-up years; her parents had both stopped attending church when she was young. But as a teenager, Ashley found a group of friends at girls’ camp who were determined to make it a bigger part of her life.

“They bugged me every day to go to seminary at 6 in the morning,” she says. “I thought they were crazy.” Finally, they made a deal: “If I went to seminary for two days, they would leave me alone.” The next morning Ashley woke up, bleary eyed at 5 a.m., to sit in her stake’s seminary class on the stage in the gym. “I thought it was odd, but I liked it,” she says. “I went every day [after] then until I graduated.” Three months after she began attending seminary, Ashley met with the missionaries. Two months later, at age 15, she was baptized.

Don’t Sweat It: When her parents talked to neighbors and friends about where Ashley would end up in college, they joked she’d go to BYU—to get married, of course. “But then I said, ‘Actually, I think I want to go there,’” she says.

Ashley Falcon dancing

Unlike some high schoolers who fret and worry about applying to college, Ashley approached her application to BYU the same way she approaches everything—with her signature easygoing style. In fact, BYU was the only university she applied to. “Now that I think about it, that was probably not the best idea, but I was very calm about it,” she says. “It didn’t really start hitting me that that was a bad decision until the week [applications were due].” But true to character, Ashley didn’t worry much about not getting accepted anywhere. “I just kind of let it go,” she says. “I felt like this is where I needed to be—like this was it.” And, as it turned out, it was.

—Sarah E. Crane (BA ’09)

Braden Hancock's high-school enthusiasm kept him involved in just about everything - including marching band.

Braden Hancock’s high-school enthusiasm kept him involved in just about everything – including marching band.


Hometown and High School: Fairborn, Ohio; Beavercreek High School

Applied To: Only BYU, but tempted by MIT

Major Plans: Mechanical engineering

Interests and Achievements: Performed twice in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, once as a Lamanite warrior and once as Lemuel; played drums in high school marching and jazz bands and performed in show choir and musicals; participated in math and science competitions and Advanced Placement classes; National Merit Scholar and Thomas S. Monson Scholar; worked two summers in the turbine division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, processing data from engine sensors.

Plans to Bring to Provo: Toby and Al—two of his collection of 29 gnomes. Toby was his first.

True Blue: “I was wearing BYU clothes before I knew it was even a college,” says Braden Hancock, whose father, mother, and two older siblings went to BYU. “It’s always been the plan—BYU is the place to go for an undergrad.”

Growing up in Ohio, Braden developed the belief that “Mormons go to BYU.” When he was about 9 years old, his family attended a BYU–Weber State basketball game while on a trip to Utah. Young Braden was surprised to see his Ogden cousins cheering for Weber State. “I don’t get it,” he said to his brother. “They’re all good members of the Church. Why are they not cheering for BYU?” With the added wisdom of a decade and his imminent status as a Cougar, Braden reflects on that experience anew: “I still don’t get it. Why would you not cheer for BYU?”

Braden Hancock Marching Band

Optimizing His BYU Experience: With a careful life road map already drawn out, Braden plans to get an engineering PhD (and possibly pick up an MBA along the way) and work in industry doing optimization. “I love saving time, saving money—just complete efficiency,” he says, talking rapidly. But the immediate next step in the plan—the BYU experience—presents some sources of anxiety for Braden. “It’s kind of stressful, this first bit at BYU. There’s so much, and I can never do it again. I want to make sure I do everything right the first time. So there’s pressure to discover everything right away and not miss out on any programs.”

Braden’s views on optimizing his BYU experience are not confined to academics. He went online and selected a ground-floor apartment in the Heritage Halls building closest to campus. But then he received an e-mail from his bishop-to-be and learned he would be in a student ward that includes two buildings of men and one building of women. It doesn’t take a math wiz to know the odds weren’t ideal, and Braden went back online seeking to trade rooms. He found a taker in a ward with a better gender balance, but this apartment was in the far northeast corner of Heritage Halls, and Braden faced an optimization challenge: which do you favor, campus proximity or social potential? “I traded my first-floor, perfect-location apartment for the top floor of the farthest building—but at least it’s a one-to-one ratio.”

And while Braden anticipates engineering clubs, math classes, and research opportunities, he is also mapping out a few lighter activities. “Fencing club sounds fun,” he says. “It’s something where it’s not a huge time demand, but still, who wouldn’t like to sword fight?”

—Jeffrey S. McClellan (BA ’94)

Laura Larsen

Laura Larsen filled her high school years with music, student government, cooking competitions, and – yes – academics.


Hometown and High School: American Fork, Utah; American Fork High School

Applied To: BYU

Major Plans: Either family, home, and consumer sciences (FHCS) or nutrition/dietetics

Interests and achievements: Section leader in the competitive marching band (even performed in the Macy’s Day Parade) and in the wind symphony, where she played the flute and piccolo; American Fork High Sterling Scholar for FHCS; participated in a state Iron Chef–type cooking competition for high school students; senior class president; poetry club secretary; high honor roll student; outdoor enthusiast.

Plans to Bring to Provo: A lucky pencil for test taking and onesie footed pajamas, pink with a pattern of crowned cats—“absolutely hideous,” she says.

Generations of Cougars: Both sets of Laura Larsen’s grandparents met while attending BYU. Their courtships were just two of many BYU stories Laura and her siblings heard growing up, stories that played a major role in Laura’s determination to become a Cougar. Her mom’s fond memories of BYU and continued correspondence with former roommates; weekend stays with her older sister, Lisa (BS ’09), at Heritage Halls; and a myriad of BYU games, activities, and performances helped seal the deal in Laura’s mind.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to come to BYU,” says Larsen. “I like the environment at BYU—how you’re surrounded by people with the same values as you.”Laura Larsen flute

Going to Work: Laura had heard it was hard to get in to BYU, so she went to work. “I tried to prepare myself by taking hard classes and doing well in all of them,” she says.

It’s not hard to imagine level-headed Laura hunched over her books. But her high school days were filled with more than tough classes; between homework and tests, she kept herself busy with band and FHCS activities. She competed in cooking competitions and made a wool coat for a sewing competition. She was also senior class president. “When you’re senior class president,” she says, “you have that responsibility to get to know people,” a talent she feels will come in handy in a sea of new faces at BYU.

Once she received her acceptance to BYU, Laura turned her focus to being financially prepared. The day after graduation she started working at a catering service. “Work is never a party, but this was hard,” she says. Over the summer, she used her earnings to gather supplies, clothes, and house wares. “Life is expensive—I learned that,” Laura says.

“When I was buying stuff, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I just spent 10 hours working for this one little thing!’ I think the biggest shock for me was just how fast my money went—all that work.”

Despite the long hours, Laura was happy to be working toward her goal of attending BYU. As the summer wore on, she came up with a new list of objectives. “You set so many goals to get to BYU,” she says. “Once I [was] accepted, I made a list of what I wanted to do before I graduated [from BYU] and what I wanted to do each year. Before I know it I’m going to be graduated, so I’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities.”

—Amanda Bagley Lewis (BA ’09)