PROVO — Every year since 2001, North Carolina resident Carol Efird has made the pilgrimage to Utah for Brigham Young University's Campus Education Week. If you're new to the game, Efird can fill you in on the best seats and what to expect from conference favorites.
"I like to pick rows seven or eight," she said. "I like to see expressions."
And when attending a class by LDS musicians Janice Kapp Perry and Marvin Goldstein, Efird said she likes to be able to see the master pianists' hands as they glide across the piano keys.
Goldstein has been coming to Education Week for upwards of 20 years. Efird has been there for 17 of those — consecutivley for the past 12 years. So for her, it's like reconnecting with old friends.
"I never miss it unless I have to," Efird said. "And I really don't like to have to."
Efird is one the visitors to the BYU campus who look forward to the tradition of Education Week, making it an annual trek.
"It completely rejuvenates me," Efird said.
For some, the conference has been life-changing.
A lesson in conversion
It's a combination of inspiration and information that keeps Felix Russell Stovall of Beaumont, Texas, coming back, as well as a long legacy of Education Week that served as a key component to his conversion to the LDS Church.
Stovall has been attending the conference for more than 20 years. And when he first came, he was active in his Baptist congregation.
A primary care doctor by trade, Stovall heard about Education Week from friends who were patients of his. During his eight-year-long investigation of the LDS Church, Stovall made his way to Provo twice to be taught at the feet of what he called some of the greatest LDS scholars.
"It helped me see the trueness of the scriptures," Stovall said. "The scholars clarified some of the falsehoods I had been taught about Mormons in Texas. They assisted me in my testimony."
After Stovall was baptized a member of the LDS Church, his wife, Jerri Lynn Stovall, was concerned about the impact his decision would have on their family. One of Stovall's sons also joined the church and later served a mission.
"She thought it was a cult," Stovall said.
But he convinced her to come to Education Week, and she agreed because of her love of academics. Thanks to a powerful teacher, Jerri Lynn began to change her opinion about the LDS faith.
She began attending church with her husband back in Texas, and watched their son pass the sacrament. Four years later, she was baptized.
"I accredit the teaching of the scholars and Education Week to her joining," said Stovall, who would recommend Education Week to anyone — regardless of their religious affiliation.
A lesson in faith
It's a similar story for now Education Week faculty member Stephanie Halford Taylor, a homemaker who lives in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Taylor is an Education Week veteran of 14 years, but this time she's behind the podium.
For Taylor, it was a way to "fill her bucket" during one of the darkest battles of her life: infertility.
Now, Taylor is turning the tables and teaching a class titled "Enduring Well the Journey of Infertility," sharing many personal experiences of her and her husband's struggle to start their family.
Seven years into her Education Week tradition, her husband began to attend classes with her.
"It became a couple's retreat for us," Taylor said. "We always like to finish off our day with a dance class."
But it was more than the time they spent together. For Taylor, it was a spiritual feast and a compass for future opportunities.
It was during an Education Week class six years ago that Taylor said she felt prompted to share her own story and lessons learned. When she decided to tackle the difficult and personally connected topic of infertility, Taylor said the ideas started to flow freely.
"My mind opened up and was flooded with ideas to share and to help other people," Taylor said. "I didn't go to class the next hour. Instead I wrote down what would become the framework for my entire series."
Right after creating her framework, in an act of what Taylor calls divine intervention, she stood in line for lunch behind Ronald Bartholomew, a faculty presenter.
She told him her idea, and Bartholomew, also an LDS bishop, recognized the need for more understanding and support for women struggling with infertility.
Taylor resubmitted her proposal several times, and for the past three years has been teaching two series — one on infertility and the other on applying the gospel of Jesus Christ through the mortal experience.
And for Taylor, it is a journey highlighted by gratitude.
"The first year I was here, it was so humbling for me. My desires were so huge to just give back," Taylor said. "To give to the process that had so enriched my life over the years. I wanted to contribute to that for other people. That desire was met beyond my wildest dreams and expectations."
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company