The following essay just won 3rd place in the Alumni Spirit Week writing contest at BYU-Idaho (Ricks College):
For a young man growing up in Menan, Idaho, just a skip over the stoic Menan Buttes and over the mighty, meandering Snake River, Ricks College loomed large on the hill. Yes, we attended almost every youth conference at Ricks, watched basketball games on the “big boys’ court” in Hart Gymnasium, played basketball and volleyball in the auxiliary gym, earned our swimming merit badge in the swimming pool, and even spent time in the Library, working on various merit badges. No matter how many times I walked the halls, ate in the Manwaring Center, or just sat on top of Table Rock on the north butte, I was always in awe of Ricks College as a formidable institution, one that, perhaps, was beyond my reach.
During those early years, I did not initially equate Ricks College with Sarah Ann Barnes’ phrase: “A temple of learning.” I cannot remember my leaders discussing learning in this way. Perhaps, they did, and I just did not get it or I was not paying attention. Dances, swimming, basketball, staying in the dorms, and the all-you-can-eat buffet seemed to encompass my teacher- and priest-age mentality. But I knew I felt something different when I climbed from our leader’s car and stepped foot on the campus.
I still remember the first time I cautiously strode through the doors of the Manwaring Center. Chills and sense of awe mixed with feelings of excitement overcame me. I wondered whether I should even be there. But entered I did, and the more time I spent on campus, the more I captured the feeling that I belonged. Perhaps, that is how the spirit touched a young man whose home was not the most spiritual. It was on this campus where I was tutored in the spirit, feeling something strong pounding in my chest during youth conference testimony meetings. Was that the spirit touching me? Was I beginning to enter the “temple of learning”? But come there to learn, to go to college? Now that was a different story.
In my home, however, going to college was not necessarily discussed as the thing to do. It was something I wanted to do, but money was an issue. Having eight children, my parents struggled with the everyday needs of a large family. So, I worked. Perhaps, this integration of work and earning posited a stronger feeling of doing the Lord’s work so I could come home from a mission, go to college, and make something of myself.
Even after my mission, the “thirst” was there, but the container full of financial liquid was not. I still had to work hard in order to attend. After almost a year working, and I enrolled so that my thirst could be quenched. Although I still had to live at home, I had money enough to pay for tuition and books and a job to pay for gas and essentials.
The fifteen miles to Ricks College did not initially seem like a burden, except in the winter and the tortuous drive from Menan to Rexburg and driving over the very scary Thornton Bridge. But the moment I drove on campus after one of white knuckle drives through snow drifts and near misses of trucks and cars passing simultaneously on a very narrow bridge, sometimes only inches apart, I felt at home, relieved that I had made it without injury.
Yes, I can look back on it now, and as Sarah Ann Barnes said, “the memory [of those days] fills my very soul with joy, for [truly] it seemed that angels of God…” helped me navigate the terrain and the personal challenges that periodically beset me. But even more than that, Sister Barnes’ and Elder Eyring’s messages of having the spirit as a constant companion rang true, each day that I drove to the campus, parked, and sauntered to the Manwaring Center, the Library, Hart Gym, Smith Building, and others.
Ricks College, now Brigham Young University—Idaho, is a temple of learning. While I did not see it in the beginning as a young teacher or priest at youth conferences, I came to know it as a student because—finally—I possessed a “recommend for learning,” one that I acquired over time through patient diligence. I learned that I was worthy of a college education, and Ricks College boosted my confidence and propelled me to go beyond my own self, my own trappings. Surely, Sister Barnes’ “spiritual angels were there” to lead me by the hand.