The First Year, Part Three: Hitting Their Stride - Y Magazine
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The First Year, Part Three: Hitting Their Stride

In the First Year series, BYU Magazine follows six freshmen from their introduction to BYU in August 2008 through April 2009 finals. As if in real time, their stories recount the joys and sorrows, the levity and learning that typify the first year of college. From fall colors to finals, read on as six freshmen navigate their first semester.

An Autumn Picture

“This is my favorite time of the year,” says Laura Larsen (’12), observing October’s changes to the campus color palette as the days shortened and the air cooled. “Campus is gorgeous with all the colors of leaves draped on the trees and scattered on the ground. It’s like walking in an autumn picture.”

Double Dates

On her first blind date, Sini-Tuulia Sohkanen (’12) made an impression—but not on the boy she was with. The date entailed a BYU women’s volleyball game followed by grilled s’mores and more volleyball outside Heritage Halls. Sini’s volleyball skills charmed. “I tried to kick the ball and kicked my shoe off clear to the neighboring hall,” Sini says. “We spent 10 minutes searching for it.” A boy there with another girl assisted Sini, then asked Sini out the next day. “He asked me to go four-wheeling this weekend,” she says.

Major Confusion

When he arrived at BYU, Mitch Staley (’12) was confident about the path ahead—major in business strategy and then add on a law degree. But a month and a half of college argued for a course change. Particularly persuasive was his Principles of Accounting class, which Mitch was well on his way to bombing. “It’s not going to hurt my feelings,” he says. Now he’s thinking public relations or even broadcast journalism. “I just want to do a job that would be fun to go to every day.”

Tough Loss

BYU football games were emotional experiences for Adam Jones (’14). “After BYU lost to TCU,” he says, “I didn’t talk to anyone for two-and-a-half days. It was pretty bad. I was driving my roommate crazy.”

Freshman Serenade

At the fall talent show for Braden Hancock’s (’14) ward, someone performed the most difficult song on the most difficult level of Guitar Hero on the big screen. Another ward member did fire juggling, balloon twisting, and opera singing. For his part, Braden joined with three roommates to sing Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” with choreography. After the performance, female ward members queued up to make requests, and soon “the a cappella boys” were regularly performing custom arrangements of “Happy Birthday” to apartments of young women throughout the ward.

Chirp, Tweet, Squaaawk

Ashley Falcon (’12) never thought she’d study a foreign language in a biology class, but one day they did something like that. The instructor led the large class on a walk around campus, and each time they spotted a bird, he demonstrated how to vocalize that bird’s specific call. Passersby gave the group curious glances as the students, staring skyward with mouths open, squawked out dissonant calls. “We probably scared more birds than we attracted,” says Ashley.


Not one to compartmentalize his interests, Braden took his academic excitement for production optimization to his kitchen, where he prepared a month’s worth of burritos in his own factory. Inspired, his roommates followed suit, and soon the freezer was bulging with 75 burritos.


Living in the same apartment wasn’t enough. Sini and her roommates held a roommate sleepover in the kitchen, mattresses and all. And at 2 a.m., the setting made them hungry, so they decided to make banana pancakes. “After we had giggled, eaten delicious pancakes, spilt hot chocolate everywhere, and started a quote wall, we all slept together on the kitchen floor. But the fun didn’t end. After a while one of my roommates started praying in her sleep. And it was a long prayer . . .”

Keeping Things Cool

Ever the diligent student, Laura awoke early one morning to cram for a quiz. In an attempt to rouse her still-sleepy self, she went to the freezer in search of ice cream. Even in her groggy state, she quickly identified a problem—her ice cream was the consistency of soup. The fridge was broken.

Laura and her roommates suddenly had more to keep track of than just school and work. Finding temporary homes for their food in ward members’ apartments, they kept a running list of where everything was. Within a few days, the landlord provided a sleek new fridge, and they retrieved their food. “It is so nice to know that my 2 percent milk is waiting for me just a few feet away instead of a couple of flights of stairs up and around the corner,” says Laura, who credits her early-morning craving for saving the apartment’s food.

Attendance Optional

Diligent study and class participation earned Braden a 98 on the first midterm for Health/Physical Education. The hard work also allowed him to observe the intricacies of the course operation. The tests, he noted, were based exclusively on the online PowerPoints and notes. This observation led Braden to a startling realization: attendance for this 8 a.m. class was entirely optional. He could study the online materials and still ace the tests. “It lets me sleep in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, which is nice,” he says.

Elementary, Watson

For an hour every Friday, Ashley helped fifth graders at Provo’s Wasatch Elementary with math as part of BYU’s Teaching Outreach to Provo Schools (TOPS) program. “This has been a great experience because I get to assist the teacher and interact with the students,” says the elementary ed major. “It has helped me to see that I really do enjoy being in an elementary school atmosphere and that . . . I have made the right decision [by] going into teaching.”

Peculiar People

A couple of months into his BYU experience, Mitch says his testimony “has been strengthened, definitely, and it’s been hurt in a few places.” The convert came to Provo in large part to be amongst Church members, so it was disheartening when some seemed worldly to him. His frustration motivated him to write about remaining a peculiar people for an English paper, which he read aloud to his class.

On the other hand, he has also come to see that it’s easy to misjudge people by appearances: “After the first month or so . . . you realize that not everybody is exactly what they look like and you get to know some people. That helps a lot. You feel . . . more accepting.”

Laura stole the show at her ward Halloween party, dressing up as the Y itself. Her costume earned her the prize for most original costume.

Laura stole the show at her ward Halloween party, dressing up as the Y itself. Her costume earned her the prize for most original costume.

Falling in Love

When Sini found some free time, you could smell it. One crisp October afternoon, with a paper done and violin practice out of the way, she and a roommate decided to bake pies from scratch and discovered one pumpkin goes a long way. “We did two pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread and invited a lot of people over,” says Sini, confessing: “I’ve fallen in love with pumpkin pie.”

Family Fights

Monday nights often turned into a contest for Adam and his FHE kin. “We always tried to get other FHE groups involved in a competitive activity.” For example, he says, “we had scripture chase night, and the winners got to paint the other family’s faces with face paint. That got pretty intense.”

Facing Reality

With the first round of midterm exams down, the question of class grades in the first semester of college began to weigh heavily. “They finally started posting grades for classes,” said Braden in late October, referring particularly to his scores in Chem 105. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, I’m second? Second?!?’ You know, like, ‘AAAAHHH!’ I’ve got a 98.6, and there’s that kid that has a 99.1!”

Selective Reading

The most challenging thing about college, Sini decided, was trying to find time for everything. “I’ve found that you don’t need to do all the reading assignments,” she explains, citing a 97 she received on a recent test as evidence. “For some [classes], you can skim through the book and be OK.”

Only Lacking Prince Charming

For their first college All Hallows’ Eve, Ashley and her roommates joined the throng of students who descended on DI for budget-friendly costumes. After some browsing they emerged ready to become Disney princesses—Jasmine, Belle, and Pocahontas.


For Halloween, Adam and some friends dressed up as the Scooby Doo Mystery Gang, gathering materials for costumes at Saver’s. Adam was Freddie, wearing a blond wig he had given a haircut. They went party hopping to several locations, including an apartment complex where a DJ played music in the underground parking garage, which had been enclosed and darkened with black plastic and lit with black lights.


By November Mitch wasn’t exactly what you’d call a dating machine. He did go ice blocking once at a Provo park. He was asked out on another date, but he had scheduled a trip home to Montana. “I wasn’t going to give that up,” he says.

Crazy Sober

Each freshman boy took a turn in front of the laptop as Sini introduced her FHE brothers to her family via Skype. “They seemed to be nice young men—funny young men,” Sini translates for her mom. “I like that they can be funny and crazy without being drunk,” says Enni-Riia, Sini’s younger sister. Something’s different about Sini, her oldest brother, Joaquim, says: “She [spends] more time with guys. It shows on her face.”

Chick Flick

Friday movie night was a weekly tradition for Ashley and her roommates. Each week, they picked up the essentials: a movie (typically a “chick flick”) and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream from the BYU Creamery.

Populating the Date Log

After taking Elise Biancardi (’14) to Homecoming Spectacular, Braden struck up a friendship with the whole apartment, and one roommate in particular—Elise Evans (’12). Both Elises yielded entries in Braden’s “date log,” which records outings beginning with his first date (with Mom) at age 16. Homecoming with Elise Biancardi was date no. 52; Elise Evans occupied dates 54–55, 57, and 59–66, in October and November. Most of their outings involved long walks and talks late in the evening—around campus, up by the temple, through Provo streets. One night, after a long walk, they returned to their respective apartments and each powered up Facebook, where they saw each other and began chatting online. They decided that was silly and met up to continue the conversation in person into the wee hours of the morning.

Adam Jones

ALong with more than 2,600 other students, Adam and his buddiesstrapped on football flags once a week during fall semester in their quest for intramural championship T-shirts.

Johnny Boy

In the spontaneity of an aimless afternoon, Sini and the roomies began naming inanimate objects in their apartment. The larger-than-life male model on the poster in the kitchen: James. Sini’s violin: Johnny Boy.

“It was the most attractive name I could think of,” sighs roommate Graceanne Jacobson (’11). She had dated a Johnny who was now serving a mission. “Now Sini sees Johnny Boy more than I do,” Graceanne chides. “They just practice one-on-one.”

Johnny Boy—the violin—is constantly taking Sini away from her roommates, as she practices more than 30 hours a week. “It’s a full-time relationship,” Sini jokes. “It’s my babe, what can you expect?”

Ashley Falcon

From experiences in high school, Ashley knew she was interested in elementary ed, but volunteering in a Provo elementary and observing children at the BYU preschool helped cement her desire.

The Day After

On Nov. 6, the day after elections, political junkie Mitch was disappointed but undaunted. The grassroots party advocate and first-time voter had been a fervent Mitt Romney (BA ’71) devotee, having even spoken for him at a Montana caucus night and at rallies. But Mitch quickly got behind the party nominee, John McCain. Until his scholastic busyness caught up with him, Mitch had entertained ideas of joining with the College Republicans in get-out-the-vote campaigns in Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon.

Snow? No!

A native of Kent, Wash., Ashley can handle rain. But in Provo, “every time it snows I scream,” she says, “and not with excitement.” Snow usually closes schools in Washington, regardless of the amount. Over the first few days of November, Ashley learned that snow is just a part of life along the Wasatch Front, as are the fluctuations in fall temperatures. In just five days the high temperature on campus dropped from the low 70s to the mid-30s.

First Flakes When the first snow fell in Provo, Sini was unfazed. School was never cancelled because of snow in Finland. Her dad would tie a rope to the back of their snowmobile and they’d ski behind it. But her new roommates—one from Texas and another from Arizona—had never seen the white wonder. “They are obsessed with snow,” says Sini.

Be Prepared

After studying Preach My Gospel in his mission-prep course, Adam says, “The last five weeks of the class we just taught each other; we had to practice discussions. It was pretty tough—harder than I thought it would be.”

Tabernacle Tune-Up

The Freshman Academy section of Music Theory was privileged to tour—and play in—the newly renovated Tabernacle on Temple Square. “I’ve never played in a place like that before,” says Sini, who soaked up the building’s echo. “Usually when you play in a big church or a cathedral, the sound gets really blurry, but it stays sharp in the Tabernacle.”


Mitch has just one sibling, a brother who left for college when Mitch was in sixth grade. So as a teenager, Mitch never had to wrangle for space. “That’s why I chose roommates,” he says, calling it a learning experience. But the lesson took a while to set in. At the beginning of the semester, he says he was “pretty uptight” about the living conditions and “high-strung clean.” A few months in, Mitch still mostly kept to his own room, but, he says, “I’ve learned that you kind of just got to chill. You’ve got to relax.”


Laura knows where she’ll be every Tuesday at 11 a.m. as long as she attends BYU. Like many other students, she looks forward to her weekly trek to the Marriott Center for campus devotionals and forums. Particularly memorable were the Samuelsons’ opening devotional and a visit by an Irish singer. “Isn’t that so amazing, that once a week you just get to go and be uplifted or go and be educated about things that are happening in the world?”

Winter Registration

On Braden’s winter semester wish list were two high-demand classes: Book of Mormon with W. Jeffrey Marsh (MEd ’84), highly recommended by Elise Biancardi, and Missionary Preparation with Randy L. Bott (EdD ’88), highly recommended by about everyone. To get into Marsh’s class, Braden asked his soon-to-be brother-in-law to snag a spot in the class with his upperclassman priority-registration benefit. Then, when Braden could register, they got online at a late hour and his brother-in-law dropped and Braden added the class in quick succession. Getting into Bott’s class was more difficult. As he posted on Facebook on Nov. 14, “Braden Hancock has been spastically checking mission prep the past five days to try to nab Bott for mission prep—and he just randomly now saw an opening and snatched it!”


Talk about lucking out. Sini’s roommates regularly enjoyed the benefits of sharing space with a skilled cook. From Finnish favorites to Sunday dinners to pastries and pies, Sini always seemed to be whipping up something tasty for her Fox hall apartment.

I Write the Songs

Adam thoroughly enjoyed his songwriting class, even though he was one of only three freshmen. “It was intense. I don’t know how I got in there. Everyone else in the class were music media majors. They planned to do that for their life, so the competition was pretty stiff. But I got to write songs—not that well, but I still got to.”

Fish Here

Freshman girls send subtle and not-so-subtle messages through residence hall d�cor and signs in windows. “Looking for a date?” asked a giant crepe-paper sign in Sini’s apartment, featuring a blue pond stocked with fish labeled with the names of the tenants. “Fish here.”


As fall semester began to wane, Braden and Elise Evans became “clubbers” for Laugh Out Loud (LOL), the student improv comedy troupe. Though they were not LOL performers, the pair participated in weekly practices and got free tickets to LOL shows, where they were occasionally invited to join the improv games on stage. “It’s fun to have another outlet for the performing bug,” Braden says.


Ashley was planning to spend Thanksgiving with family friends in Utah, but a friend from Washington offered her a ride home. Ashley quickly concocted a plan to arrive unannounced on her own doorstep and surprise her family, but, as so often happens, her mom caught word of the clandestine plans from a friend. Ashley salvaged some of the surprise by showing up Saturday instead of Tuesday. Her family was surprised and happy to have some extra days with Ashley.

Called to Serve

While he had intended to stay for a full year at BYU, Adam eventually decided he shouldn’t “procrastinate the day of [his] mission.” So he submitted his papers, requesting his call to be sent to his home in Layton, Utah, where he’d be for Thanksgiving.

On Nov. 26 Adam got to the mail first, hid the envelope in his shirt, then ran across the street to some baseball field bleachers to open it. “I read it four times before I finally comprehended that I was going to the Italy Milan Mission. Then I stood up and screamed like a little schoolgirl.”

Adam enlisted his sister to surprise the family. They gathered everyone for a lively game of speed Scrabble. At the table, as everyone focused on a second game, Adam began constructing his own puzzle—using tiles from his pocket. “I eventually spelled, ‘I’m goin’ to Italy,’ in tiles and then yelled, ‘I win!’” After a quick glance at his tiles, his family members ignored his claim of victory until Adam’s sister repeated, “No. Adam won!” and his family looked more closely. “It took a good five seconds for it to register,” says Adam. “Then Mom started screaming, along with everyone else.”

Home on the Range

While home in Montana for Thanksgiving, Mitch shot a “four by five” elk, his second prize of November. On an earlier trip home, he’d bagged himself a “mulie” (mule deer).

Home Alone

A mid-November trip to Ohio and Nauvoo, Ill., for his sister’s wedding replaced Braden’s Thanksgiving vacation, so he was left alone in Provo for the holiday. Having just seen his family, he didn’t mind. On turkey day, he devoted 10 hours to his final History of Creativity project—with an hour break to enjoy a festive dinner with a few ward members. During the rest of the weekend, he did other homework, read part of a book, applied for scholarships, and invited friends over to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy—the extended editions. And in general, he just enjoyed having the apartment to himself: “I played whatever music I wanted, as loud as I wanted it, without headphones. I turned the thermostat up from our usual 68 degrees to a balmy 73 and basked in my newly found warmth.”

Buon Giorno!

Adam’s interactions with BYU’s female population changed focus after he received his mission call. A major interest became language ability. “I have a couple of girls in my ward who speak Italian,” Adam says. “They’ve been teaching me phrases like ‘How are you?’ and stuff. Maybe later they can write me in Italian.”

Raw Rah

It’s hard to be too down about a 10–2 football regular season, but Mitch still felt a little disappointed with how things turned out. After all the hype that came with a strong start, the team’s late-season conference losses to TCU and Utah took much of the wind out of this fan’s sails. So he transferred his enthusiasm to the basketball team—he was especially jazzed about BYU guard Jimmer Freddette (’11).

A Light Proposal

One of Adam’s ward activities was a trip to Temple Square to see the lights. In front of the temple, Adam says, “I pretended to propose to a girl from the ward.” After he went down on one knee, playing it up, he says, “all of these girls were screaming, and people clapped as we walked off happy.”

The Figure 8

“Dear Brent Strong: I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to be one of the 20,000 members of the new community Euclidia.” That was the beginning of Braden’s History of Creativity final project, for which he created a base-eight number system, as well as the hypothetical community that would begin implementing the system. Braden’s octal system would replace the decimal system and traditional U.S. measurements and would overhaul time and calendar systems. “It was a little bit fun to speculate on how it would mess with people’s heads,” he says.


Thirty minutes before they were scheduled to perform the polka in a competition for students in social dance 180, Laura and her dance partner still hadn’t received any instruction on the polka. The teacher who had talked them into competing had also promised to teach it to them, but scheduling conflicts arose and lessons were postponed. A YouTube search yielded some videos of an old Swedish couple demonstrating the polka (“As easy as one-two-three”), but that was it.

Finally, the teacher arrived to give them some frantic pointers right before the competition began. “Before I knew it, I was dancing the polka in front of judges and hundreds of students,” Laura says. Luckily, she and her partner proved to be fast learners. They came away with third place, a candy bar, and a great memory.


Who needs practice? Because of scheduling conflicts with their instructor, Laura and her dance partner had less than a half-hour’s worth of instruction but still won third place in a polka competition.

Time Flies

With only three weeks before the semester’s end, Adam tried his best to enjoy every last moment. “It’s sad that we usually don’t notice 
our blessings until they’re almost or all-the-way gone,” he reflects.

“Now that I’m near the end of the experience, I just want more. It seems like I’ve done so much but still not enough. I think back to the beginning of the semester and want so much to just experience it all again. It’s been an entirely rewarding experience, one that I’ll never forget.”

A Little Shut-Eye

In her first semester Ashley’s sleeping habits were shocking—for a freshman. While others in her residence hall soaked up college freedom well into the a.m., Ashley forced herself to call it a day around 11 p.m. “I know I need my sleep,” she says, noting that regular doses of eight hours in the sack have helped her focus throughout the day and get more done.

A Friendly Gesture

Sini’s ward rented a charter bus to take the congregation to see the lights on Temple Square, where Sini was reportedly seen holding hands with a boy in her ward. “Everyone was making a deal about it. They were asking me, ‘Are you guys together?’ In Europe we would hold hands with our friends,” Sini says defensively, though a coy smile seeps through.

Study Skills—or Something Like That

In early December, the hall council in Braden’s residence hall made an announcement. “They were like, ‘We’re going to have a study skills session—followed really soon thereafter by video games and food,’” he recalls. The activity itself turned out to be five minutes of “You guys should study. Uh . . . here’s how you could do it. Now video games.”

“Speak Up, I’m Trying to Study”

Studying inside the library, Ashley admits, “is kind of a fear of mine.” As long as she can remember, Ashley has not cared for libraries’ consuming silence. She says a tension builds around her while she tries to study, and the focus of so many students starts to stress her out. In the fall, Ashley studied only once in the library. Most days she studied at home. “I just need some noise.”

Crafting an A

Exemption from a final exam? Laura couldn’t pass that up. By earning enough extra credit throughout the semester, she was able to neatly sidestep her Biology 100 final. “Which is nice,” she says, “very nice.” One extra-credit project required her to create a model of a cell. After adding layers of papier-mâché to a lump of salt dough, she painted and labeled it with the parts of a eukaryotic cell. “I’m not a really artsy person, so I’m sure [the professor] just threw it away right after I turned it in,” she says. “But get the extra credit, you know?”

Making the Grade

As finals approached, Braden did a bit of quick math and saw that because of extra credit and good previous scores, he needed final exam marks of only 73, 35, 66, 29, 74, and 66 to get As—“I had a lot of leeway,” he says. That meant finals week was low on stress for this freshman. He easily surpassed the scores he needed and secured his 4.0.

Major Confusion, Part Two

After handing over his accounting final, Mitch didn’t even look at the video monitor to see how he’d done. “Fortunately, I’m changing my major to where I won’t need that class,” he says. His first substitute had been something in communications, but his biology class made an impression. Now he’s planning to pursue a physiology and developmental biology major and also complete the premed requirements.

Final Preparations

When finals week arrived, Laura was still reeling from long hours and late nights spent wrapping up coursework and preparing for tests. “I was pretty nervous and didn’t sleep very well Sunday night,” she says. But she wasn’t alone. “It makes you feel a little better walking into the library and seeing that most of the seats are occupied by wide-eyed students going through the exact same worries you are.”

Getting It Over With

Adam pounded out his finals in two days. “I was tired of having them on the front of my mind, and I just needed to get them over with. So I would wake up at 7 in the morning and then I finally got done with my last test at about 8 p.m. So 12 or 13 hours of studying and testing [each day].”

Before the Jury

All music majors perform two self-chosen works for a panel of professors at the end of each semester. These “juries” can be intimidating, the dark auditorium filled with eerie silence between each piece. “You have to dress up,” says Sini, “and you have to bring an accompanist.” Sini elected to play Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata no. 4, second movement, and Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto no. 2, both pieces she’d worked on all semester. Each student gets 10 minutes—hardly enough time to get through one piece alone: “You start playing, and the jury interrupts you,” says Sini. “They’ll say, ‘Skip to this part,’ and you have to go from there.”

Sini performed while teetering on 4-inch heels. “Wearing heels helps me to not move around so much—otherwise I’m all over the stage, and it affects the sound. But my heels were so high, I had a problem balancing in them,” she says. “At one part I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I might fall!’”

One Speck Shy of Spic and Span

On a mid-December day, Mitch and his roommate Joseph H. Wright (’14) frantically worked over the final details of their apartment before cleaning inspections. Even self-proclaimed neat freak Mitch finds them pretty stringent. “He’s, like, intense,” Mitch says of their inspector, a fellow student. “Last time he failed us, straight up.” The doorjamb wasn’t thoroughly clean. “That and the microwave had a speck on it,” Mitch adds. But he notes that there is a bright side to the scrutiny. “That’s why these [apartments] are so nice—they take care of them.”

More Than Luck

Near the end of the semester, Laura clicked her way through a survey rating her American Heritage class. Her persistence had helped her pull off a good grade, even though the class had been the most stressful part of her semester. That persistence continued paying dividends even after the semester ended, when she won an iPod in a drawing for those who completed the optional rating.

Out with a Splash

The night after his last final, Braden was hanging out with friends when a guy in the group suggested they celebrate the semester’s end by jumping in Utah Lake. A girl offered to drive, and before he knew what was happening, Braden was putting on a swimsuit. En route, the plan changed, and the party detoured to the Provo River, where three young males proceeded to wade in the river, sit down, and splash around in the frigid water. “It actually wasn’t so terrible,” Braden says. “I couldn’t feel my feet after the first two-ish seconds in the water.”

American Christmas

“I’m not really homesick yet,” says Sini—at least not homesick enough to pay $1,500 for a plane ticket home for the holidays. “I’ll miss certain things, . . . but things over here make me so happy.” Sini decided instead to visit an old friend from Finland, practically family, in Portland, Ore.—a little bit of Finland at a more reasonable price.

A Festive Farewell

After a trip to Wendy’s on the last Friday of the semester, Adam and his friends returned to a decorated Wyview. “A bunch of people in our ward got tons and tons of plastic [grocery] bags and made chains . . . to string from building to building. There were probably 10 or 15 huge garlands going across the parking lot. They connected every stairwell in our ward. It was pretty sweet.”

No Rest for the Freshman

At the beginning of the semester, Braden’s average bedtime was midnight. By semester’s end, as recorded in his careful sleep log, bedtime had slipped to about 2 a.m. The records? Braden’s earliest bedtime was 10:22 p.m., and his latest was about 5 a.m.

Braden Hancock

Braden observed a wide variety of study havits and environments in his first semester at BYU. For him, the desk in his room became his favorite place to hit the books.

Habit Forming

Freshmen form some good habits, and some that need to be broken. “I go to bed really, really late . . . that’s bad,” says Sini. “But I’d say having Sunday dinners with roommates and friends is a good habit.” In all, her first semester at BYU changed her for the better, she says: “I feel like I’m more polite, more smiling; I say more compliments.”

Avoiding the Plague

As he prepared to leave his apartment for Christmas break, Mitch enumerated a couple of mid-year lessons. First, his apartment is not a good venue for homework because of two major distractions—his bed and Hulu, a TV-viewing Web program. “It’s a plague to college,” he says. Till now he’s avoided the library, but he acknowledges that he needs to get over his biblio-aversions. Second, he says he’ll need to do more scheduling to be successful. “Next semester I’ll have a routine,” he says, not going into detail. “I’ll figure it out then.”


Mitch found finals to be instructive, if painful at times. While Mitch bombed his accounting final, he felt confirmed in his decision to look for a new major.

A Mighty Change

At semester’s end, Laura was in awe at how much had changed in a few short months. Where she had once taken hesitant steps, lost in a maze of buildings, she now took shortcuts, fully familiar with campus. Acquaintances whose names and faces had been hard to keep track of were now among her closest friends. Books that were once fresh and stiff were now highlighted and well worn. “What a semester,” is all she could say.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas—Eventually

Facing an overbooked flight home, Braden opted for the $500 voucher, hotel room, and meal offered for his seat. “What’s a few hours compared to a few hundred dollars?” he reasoned. “Those would be some of the best-paying hours of my life!” After a night in the hotel room—watching a movie, reading a book, and witnessing BYU’s setback in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl—Braden finally landed in Ohio at 8 p.m. the next day, “with four little boys waiting just across the security line to run up and hug me.”

Sarah Egbert

If a full college load weren’t hectic enough, Sarah Egbert added two part-time jobs during her first semester to provide for herself. Though often exhausted, she still found opportunities for fun.

On Her Own

When Sarah Egbert (’12) moved into Helaman Halls at the end of August, her first thought wasn’t to meet her roommates or buy an All-Sports Pass or even to explore campus. “I needed to get a job,” she remembers. “My family is not in a position to help at all.”

Sarah, a native of Naples, Fla., had to provide every cent of her education, from her textbooks to the polka-dotted sheets on her twin-sized bed. Financial aid only goes so far, she says. “I got grants and scholarships, but even that wasn’t enough.”

Sarah soon found herself with a full load of classes and two jobs. The stress wasn’t new for Sarah. Her parents divorced when she was 7, and she shouldered much of the responsibility for her four younger siblings. But the college schedule was more hectic, and the stakes were higher. “I’m trying to figure out that balance, and it’s more difficult because now it matters more.”

A typical fall-semester day for Sarah was a whirlwind of studying and working. In her limited free time, Sarah joined friends for parties, movies at the dollar theater, and late-night taco runs. “There was always something to do there,” Sarah says of her residence hall. “Always someone to talk to or go to for help with homework.”

Though her time for socializing was slim, it was even slimmer for sleep. But work has its own rewards. “I’m the official cake doughnut froster,” Sarah says with a smile, describing one of her tasks as an employee of BYU Dining Services. She worked the midnight-to-3 a.m. shift and then had class at 8 a.m. A few hours of work at Papa John’s pizza filled her afternoon, leaving the evening for homework.

Sarah says the fall semester was “hugely difficult.” But she tried to make the most of her experience. “The attitude people have here is really fun,” she says. “It’s not so much the activity you’re doing, but the people you’re with that’s important.”

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