I had the good fortune to visit Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, last week. I’ve been fascinated by BYU for years because of its Honor Code, which bans coffee consumption, smoking, drinking, premarital sex and other activities I associate with college.
In fact, I’ve heard so much about this Honor Code, that I forgot there was a university attached to it—BYU has come to symbolize for me, a mesmerizing place where 18 to 21 year-olds sign up for a life that seems to promise none of the silly, fun frills of college.
And I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to observe any cultural differences on a wintery weekday visit, because it was cold and thus most people were dressed conservatively by default. And then I spotted this sign, encouraging young co-eds to wear skirts to the knees. The tagline, which is my favorite, says, “Leggings are not pants.”
I immediately felt like I was somewhere exotic, and definitely far from New York City. (With all due respect, I think leggings are pants. But that’s not the point.)
But as the campus tour continued, I realized that I’ve always been so focused on how different BYU is from what I consider a typical college experience, that I didn’t stop to consider how remarkable it is.
I didn’t know, for example, that a requirement of admission is an endorsement from an ecclesiastical leader. It doesn’t have to be from someone in the Mormon community, though most students opt for that.
My inner 17 year-old nerd instantly started thinking about which community leader would write mine, and how I don’t know anyone who could vouch for me in such a capacity, and then I remembered I don’t have to apply for college anymore.
I wonder what it would be like to go school with thousands of other people who are trying to get a spiritual education as much as a secular one, and also thinking about starting a family, at a time when hormones and independence are all colliding, rapid-fire.
Another surprise of BYU: it’s a bargain. The school is subsidized by the Mormon Church, so tuition is much less expensive than you’d think for such a well-respected college: about $2,200 per semester if you’re Mormon; $4,560 if you’re not.
A few other facts: Apparently Pixar has a deal with the school’s animation department. Thanks to the LDS international mission work, there are more languages spoken at BYU than on most college campuses. The list of alumni is amazing. Who knew President Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet member Ezra Taft Benson ‘26 graduated from BYU? Or that Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings and actor Aaron Eckhart are alums?
Which is all a long way of saying, it’s exciting that my world expanded.