PROVO James Briggs was 18 and on top of the world last year as he got ready to drive to the Thursday night dance that is a main attraction for the LDS teenagers who attend Brigham Young University's annual Campus Education Week.
Briggs was part of a large group of teens from around the country who had become close friends in the space of a few short days at Education Week, and he couldn't wait to hang out with the guys and dance with the girls.
Then his car broke down. He never made it to the party.
"I had a line of girls waiting to dance with me," he said with a good-natured moan earlier this week. He promised to make it to this year's dance with a lot of those old friends and some new ones, but Briggs clearly had a new focus as he mapped out the classes he'd attend this week.
"I'm looking for great instruction on missionary work," said Briggs, who next month begins a two-year mission to Guatemala for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That wide variety of available experiences draws more than 20,000 Latter-day Saints to BYU each August. It's the reason the Allison family of Peyton, Colo., has made the pilgrimage for 18 straight years.
At first, Jim and Audrey Allison said, they came to learn more about raising young children. Then they enjoyed bringing their five children as part of a growing family tradition. Now that the children are older, they spent several hours Monday at a series of classes titled "To the Parents and Grandparents of College-Age Young Single Adults." The presenter, Blair Van Dyke of the Orem Institute of Religion at Utah Valley University, promised help countering the epidemic of entitlement he's observed taking hold among teens and twenty-somethings.
"It's wonderful that we can still find things applicable to our family as our family grows," Audrey Allison said. "We enjoy the good influences and good instruction. It's also a rejuvenation for me. It gives me fresh ideas and a burst of energy for another year."
This year's Education Week was extra special for Kathy Bellows of Dubuque, Iowa, and not just because it was her first. The chance presented itself when she learned her daughter Candace, who will be a sophomore at BYU this fall, needed to return to Provo early to train for a campus job. Her husband, Kevin, volunteered to stay home and care for the couple's other four children.
"He'll run them to football camp, flute practice, band camp, Scouts," she said. "It's awesome. I feel very loved."
Bellows could only stay for Tuesday's classes, so she used the online class schedule at home to map out her day.
"I'm excited about the grains class," she said. "I want to learn how to use our wheat. There's one on adversity, not that any of us have any of that. And I can't wait to see Don Aslett, who talks about home organization. He's awesome. Funny, funny."
She also was pulling in family from around the area to attend a special campus showing of "Pride and Prejudice, The Musical."
Maybe best of all, her mother was with her every step of the way, smiling ear to ear. Marie Sandberg recently returned home to Provo after three years in St. Petersburg, Russia, where her husband, David, was an LDS mission president. She and her husband generally enjoy religion classes when they attend Education Week, but on Tuesday, Sandberg was in heaven just following her daughter around after three years apart.
The Sandbergs attended school together in Provo.
"It brings back some of the inspiration I felt at BYU," she said. "It brings back the sweet memory."
Sweet memories are exactly what 15-year-old Mariah Russell of Ephraim hoped to create on Monday after a guy friend from Las Vegas called on the weekend and encouraged her to go to Education Week. She had to start her sophomore year in high school on Tuesday, but her mom agreed to drive to Provo with her for a day.
Within an hour, Russell had made friends with 18-year-old Sara Hegsted of Pocatello during a class on "The Sensational Standard Works," by Vickey Pahnke Taylor and Brad Wilcox.
"The teachers were really good at mixing fun and serious," Hegsted said.
Russell was bummed about missing the dance but beamed when she shared her top goal: "Meet guys."
Several boys and girls in that large group Briggs was in last year came from Wyoming and returned this year. Many of them corresponded via e-mail, text messaging and Facebook during the year. Those friendships are special, said Valerie Taylor, 19, of Fort Bridger, Wyo."It's great to be around people you know share your same values and are feeling the same things you are."