In 1922, Education Week was called “Leadership Week” with a purpose to produce qualified leaders of the Church and train them properly.
According to BYU Education Week Historical Files, ”The formal purpose of Leadership Week was ‘to inspire and prepare members of the Church for higher qualities of leadership.’”
This leadership training came from church leaders and General Authorities for those who were currently called as leaders or about to be called, but the scope encompassed more than church leadership.
“Even during leadership weeks, the focus was on developing leaders, but it was also developing not only just leaders in the Church but leaders in the community and improving yourself,” said H. Bruce Payne, Program Administrator for Campus Education Week.
In 1962, the Church decided to change the focus of “Leadership Week” from training leaders to inspiring everyone to have a lifelong love of learning and thus the name was changed to Education Week. Since then, Education Week has inspired many individuals from all over the world to attend and contribute to the furthering of education and religious progression.
“You have people coming from all over the world, and they’re usually people of a higher spiritual nature that are drawn together, and you get that many people in a group combined and the Spirit is so strong,” said Lynnette Olsen, an Education Week attendee for the last 32 years.
As attendance increased from 3,000 people in 1922 to more than 20,000 in 2011, the volume and type of presenters has changed as well. General Authorities were primarily used as presenters until 1970 when secular experts, professors and church educational instructors were allowed to present. With approximately 60 new presenters each year and many returning instructors, the scope of topics has increased and a variety of secular and spiritual classes are available.
“I came to realize that you are getting the bottom line of these people’s life learnings and they are putting them in a nut shell and giving them to you, all this wisdom they’ve learned over the years,” Olsen said.
Carrie Wrigley, a licensed clinical social worker from Sandy, has taught at Education Week for the last 13 years on some popular subjects. She has taught her most popular class, “Christ-centered Healing from Depression,” since she started teaching, but her styles and techniques of teaching her classes have changed since she began. As a counselor, she has increasingly used her experiences to help saints overcome issues dealing with anxiety, depression and addiction in a gospel scope while applying music to make it different and touch hearts on a different level.
Throughout her experience at Education Week, Wrigley has noticed smaller, unplanned themes take shape among presenters that apply to the current times. These smaller themes take similar forms from year to year that always resonate in the hearts of attendants.
“There’s the official themes and then there’s the unofficial themes,” Wrigley said. “One I would say that has over arched the 13 years I’ve been teaching seems to be just mobilizing the saints against the battle we’re in, the battle for our families, the battle to stay focused and righteous in the midst of a society that’s getting evermore dark and coarse.”
With each new year, attendees have the opportunity to learn from experts and inspiring individuals that keep the program dynamic. What many forget about these experts is that they are going through the same challenges as everyone else and that, coupled with their expertise, provides life-changing insight.
“When they’ve gone through real trauma in their life, you see a new level of spirituality that they’ve attained,” Olsen said.
As these professors change in their own lifestyles, their subject matter adjusts just like the overall conference themes. According to BYU Special Collections Archives, Education Week didn’t have an official theme until 1925 when the theme was, “The Home is the Heart of Civilization.” Now, Education Week committee members use BYU’s academic theme to emphasize continued education at BYU.
Since the first theme for Education Week was decided, it set an undeclared theme for years to come — the family. Considering that the family is the central unit of the LDS Church, it’s understandable this theme is ever constant. However, something that has more recently become a common topic is the use of media in the family because of the many technological advancements in the world.
“In our current culture one of the challenges for our youth and certainly also for our adults is the excessive use of technology for communication … and that certainly wasn’t something that was being taught 10 years ago,” Wrigley said, “but it’s sort of a variation of the theme of building strong families that has been around obviously not just since Education Week started, but since the gospel was restored.”
With all of the changes in society and culture, Education Week attendants always come away satisfied and more edified than before.
“It’s a very, very high percentage who seem to get what they want and I think the reason is there’s so much to choose from that they’re able to specifically focus on something they need and get some ideas that can help improve them and improve their lives,” Payne said.
However, the overall success rate of Education Week does not come from attendance numbers or amount of renowned presenters. The true indicator of a successful conference is what the participants learn and how they let it influence their lives.
“You can listen to all this stuff and go home and just go on with your life or you can make a point to apply what you’ve learned to your life … let it be life changing, let it become incorporated into who you are so it can change you,” Olsen said.
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