It wasn’t testimony meeting, but a meaningful conversion story was shared of a convert who had not at first wanted others to know he was different or the struggles and sacrifices that joining the Church required.
Rob Versaw, a senior from Colorado majoring in statistics, entered a paper entitled “How Firm A Foundation: A Convert’s Story” into the 14th annual Student Symposium, where he publicly shared his experiences and testimony.
The Religious Education Student Symposium was held Friday and is “a forum for students to research, write, and present papers about religious subjects from a faithful perspective.” This year, 33 papers from students were selected and presented.
Patty Smith, director of religious education faculty support, coordinated the event and said the deadline for papers is the Monday after Thanksgiving each year and the symposium usually receives about 80 applicants.
Thanks to the generosity of various donors, cash prizes were awarded to some of the participants. The winners were selected through a process of professors reading and critiquing the papers.
Ken Alford, associate professor in the department of church history and doctrine, said these professors read the papers “blind”, meaning they are not aware which student has written them.
The top award was given to Parker Huber for his paper,”Truth Shall Spring Out of the Earth” (Ps. 85:11): Parallels between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon.
Stephen Smoot, a sophomore from Salt Lake City, majoring in ancient near eastern studies, received an award for his paper, “I am a song of God: Moses’ Ascension into the Divine Council in Moses 1” and encouraged interested students to think of unique ideas to research and to submit papers next year.
“If you have something that’s unique and you feel is really special then go for it,” Smoot said.
Richard Jensen, president of the Mormon History Association, presented an award from the association to Jordan Bell for his paper discussing the Kirtland Safety Society.
Richard Bennett, associate dean of Religious Education, said the symposium was created 14 years ago in response to a challenge to faculty given by President Henry B. Eyring to have every undergraduate student published before they graduate.
Bennett told the students they are not at BYU incidentally or coincidentally and called all students to action.
“If we ever needed a young generation to step up and boldly declare what it is that we are, what it is that we believe in, what our history is, and what our doctrines are, it is now,” Bennett said. “It is your future. It is your church. Rise to the occasion and bless us all.”
Although it is difficult to talk about the experiences and trials he has has had, Versaw represents evidence of a young generation willing to rise to the occasion and declare what it is that he is and believes in.
“I know I’m supposed to share my story,” Versaw said. “I can’t say I really enjoy it, but I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given and try to focus on the positive.”