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High school graduation different this year for many LDS students

Published: Saturday, June 1 2013 11:10 p.m. MDT

“He was in the middle of the lesson he had prepared, when all of a sudden he set aside his notes and started testifying to the class about his personal experience and feelings about the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ryan said, tears welling up in her eyes at the memory. “That’s when it hit me: There is this divine awareness of what they are needed for, and what they have to do to accomplish it. And they are ready to do it. That’s what I’ve seen in the kids this year. They are ready.”

Vasas agreed.

“When I first heard the announcement I thought, ‘That makes sense,’” Vasas said. “Boys and girls today are more spiritually mature at a younger age than we were. Now they are off and running. They are ready right now to serve the Lord.”

Both Lomu and Ryan said that the biggest change they have observed is among the young women in their respective classes.

“They have been amazing in their response,” Lomu said. “Before the announcement I would ask how many of the girls wanted to go on missions and it was, ‘Yeah, maybe, probably, I might.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m going.’ They’re on fire.”

“The young men are motivated to respond to the prophet’s call,” Ryan said. “For them it was all, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’ With the young women it was more of a recognition of their value and worth in missionary work — a realization that the Lord needs me, the prophet is telling me my service is worthwhile. So now we’re seeing the same resolution in the young women that we saw in the young men. They are saying, ‘The call was to all of us. Let’s go!’”

The call was also to seminary teachers, who had to “step up our game a lot,” according to Lomu.

“There’s this self-imposed pressure that I think we’ve all felt, realizing that a lot of these kids are stepping out of our classrooms and heading straight out into the mission field after high school graduation,” he said. “It made me analyze everything I do. I’m always asking myself, ‘What’s the purpose of this game or activity?’ I can’t afford to waste any precious time with these kids.”

At Woods Cross, Vasas said “we’ve tried not to turn our classes into an MTC — seminary is about more than just missionary preparation.” But still, he said, “I do find myself trying to help them see how to teach the gospel to others.”

“This year the kids have been way more focused, way more driven to learn and more specifically wanting to understand things so they can teach them,” Vasas said.

Ryan refers to it as a spiritual focus on “sharing the gospel in word and in action.”

“For those who already have their mission calls, the school year may be ending but they’re still wanting to learn,” she said. “They want to soak up as much as they can.”

She referred to a student named Jeff, who will be leaving for his mission to Korea soon after he graduates and who is studying the church’s missionary manual, “Preach My Gospel,” for a half hour every day.

“For him, not studying is not an option,” she said. “We didn’t have to come up with a program to get kids to take seminary more seriously this year. They are doing it themselves.”

Which Lomu said is putting a tangible “buzz in the air” as this year’s LDS seniors approach graduation.

“We’re teaching the Book of Revelation right now, and we’re talking about the signs of the Lord’s Second Coming,” he said. “It makes me think about what Elder (Jeffrey R.) Holland said at the time of the missionary announcement, how ‘the Lord is hastening his work.’ I think the kids feel it. They are part of something big here.”

Bigger, even, they believe, than the normal high school graduation.

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