Higher Education

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This essay was originally featured as the winning selection in BYU Magazine’s 2004 essay contest, asking ‘how has a college education changed your life’?

NO WAY, I thought, staring up at the mountain. How in the world are we supposed to climb this?

They called it “The Chute”. I called it “one more reason to end this hiking trip, go home, and play Nintendo.” We’d spent a day and a half hiking up Lone Peak Mountain, mostly over switchback dirt roads and rolling forested hills, and now the trail stopped at the base of a steep mountain wall.

My 8-year-old frame stood there in shock, and I slipped off my 30-pound pack for a moment’s rest. My brother, my dad, and our black lab, Cookie, had already started the climb—hand over foot up a narrow, 60-degree gully that had been carved into the side of the mountain by glacier runoff ages ago. The climbing trail was maybe 6 feet wide, sometimes bare dirt, sometimes boulders and roots waiting to trip me up and throw me tumbling down the ravine. Steep mountain walls and thick scrubby trees rose quickly on either side of the trail, giving it the trademark name. The Chute looked like a guinea pig tunnel, and it stretched nearly straight up for a good quarter of a mile.

My rumbling tummy reminded me that my dad carried most of the food and my brother most of the snacks. In pursuit of my brother, I started the climb. Onward and upward it stretched, and every time I thought I’d reached the midpoint, somehow it seemed the trail had grown another mile. Hours passed before we reached a dense cluster of tall, dark pine trees on a rocky outcropping that marked the top end of the Chute.

Dropping my load, I turned around to see just how far we’d come. The climb wasn’t the only thing that took my breath away: My little mountain hometown below us had transformed into small squares in an enormous patchwork quilt of summertime greens and yellows, embroidered here and there with silvery blue threads and stretching as far as the eye could see. We actually saw golden eagles soaring through the sky below us. All was quiet, and the air that swirled around us at 9,500 feet was unlike anything I’d felt down below. The sense of accomplishment from having climbed so high and the beauty to be found at this hard-wrought perspective were worth every blister and backache we had to endure.

During that trip, my dad never really focused on how high we’d hike; he would just point to a ridge a little ways away and say, “Let’s get that far, and then we’ll see what’s next.” More than once I threw down my pack and refused to climb any further. I’d reached my limit, gone as far as I thought I could. Every time, my father would climb back down to me and let me rest a little. Hoisting my pack onto his, he would smile, nod toward the next hill, and start back up the trail. Just a little further, just a little bit more.

Now my backpack is filled with books, the trail guides have become professors, and the lofty views are found in a classroom. More than once I’ve wanted to tramp over the low hills and easy paths of higher education, but the true fulfillment and soul-deep satisfaction have only come at the end of the longest, hardest climbs. The classes that have pushed me the farthest, the professors who have stretched my mind to what Ithought were my limits, the most challenging and demanding trials—they’ve all combined to leave deep, cherished marks inside me that I hope will never fade. I’ve had several glimpses of the view and sampled the sweet rewards of the journey, and I find myself hungering and thirsting for more. Ever upward, the path beckons. What once were limits and boundaries have become long-since-passed mile markers on a wonderful, enriching climb. Inch by inch, one semester at a time, my learning experience has afforded me views of the world that have been worth every price paid. Thankfully, even more lofty peaks await me after my time at BYU—I’ll bet the view is spectacular.

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