Alumni News

Taking Flight Through Creation


Note: Kristina M. Smith (’15) from Merced, Calif., won the $1,500 first-place prize in 2014’s George H. Brimhall Memorial Essay Contest, which paid tribute to people who have helped advance the arts at BYU. Her essay is printed below. The second- and third-place winners were M. Alice Waldron (’16) from Rochester Hills, Mich., and Megan B. Armknecht (’15) from Lindon, Utah. Honorable mentions went to Anne E. Thomas (’17) from Turlock, Calif.; Greta K. Ballif (’15) from Fallbrook, Calif.; and Lauren E. Wake (’17) from Springville, Utah.

Do what you love,” they say. “Follow your dreams.” But as your college graduation approaches, they rethink it.

“Maybe you want to consider graduate school?” they ask. “Have you thought about how you’ll make money with a journalism major and visual arts minor?” they prod. Your time to take flight creeps closer and closer, and they worry. To them, your artsy pursuits don’t constitute valid ambitions, and doing what you love is no longer enough. They fear you won’t make a living, let alone an impact. Should you do what you love or do what they want you to do?

I know how it feels to do what you love; creation is my love. As a 5-year-old girl, I remember dancing in my living room. Tiny, soft feet met the coarse carpet for fractions of a second at a time. Powerful and passionate, I felt like a creator. My blonde, stringy hair swung wildly as I created my own world. I knew no fear. I flew.

Today I still take flight through creation. Now I create through journalism. I aim to create a space in readers’ minds where they think differently than they have before.

I conduct interviews, granting me meaningful interactions with people whom I never would have met otherwise. There’s beauty in the creation of conversations. Then I pen articles, pulling together pieces of information, coaxing them to coexist in a space they’ve never shared. Writing, for me, is that dance on the living room rug. There is beauty in its creation and expression. It’s enlivening. It’s fulfilling. I love it; it’s enough.

Kristina Smith sitting in an office.

In her winning essay, Kristina Smith writes about pursuing her passion and learning life lessons from a 103-year-old alumnus.
Photo by Bradley Slade.

This September, I interviewed a 103-year-old woman who values creation as much as I do. In her younger years, Aline Coleman Smith (BS ’33) took flight through dance, particularly choreography. She lived for the moments when she saw her designs in motion.

Smith’s passion for dance fueled her dreams and brought her success. When she was just 15 years old, she danced around a bonfire for an annual school tradition. Eugene L. Roberts (ND ’16), BYU’s Physical Education Department head at the time, witnessed her performance and offered her a job teaching dance at BYU. She accepted right away, eager for an opportunity to choreograph. She took a break from high school to study dance in New York for a few months before teaching at BYU.

These were huge changes for Smith, expediting the flight to her future, forcing her to grow up fast. “Were you scared or reluctant?” I asked her. “Did you hesitate?” She looked at my curious eyes, honesty in hers. “No,” she said. “I loved dancing, so I was happy to do it.”

As a 5-year-old girl, I remember dancing in my living room. Powerful and passionate, I felt like a creator.

She was instrumental in bringing modern dance to Utah and BYU. Students flocked to her classes and she inspired them to keep dancing. “To be creative is one of the most exciting things you can do,” Smith told me. “A choreographer creates, and I loved that.” It fulfilled her. It was enough.

But as I spoke with her, for a brief moment the fact that she loved creating through dance was just not enough for me. The journalist in me kept prying, seeking a deeper meaning behind her decision to choreograph and dance. Her influence laid the groundwork for thousands of dance students to follow, showing them by instruction and example how to take flight with their own dreams.

Did she feel that she made a good living by following her creative instincts? Was she fulfilled by the impact she had on others? And how do these questions apply to my desire to take flight as a creative journalist?

I hoped to snatch the perfect quote: something poetic and meaningful about the purpose behind her passion.

So I tried one more question: “Why did you dance?”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I danced because I loved it.”