Most students spend their college years focusing on graduating in a timely manner. Between balancing school, church, work and even a relationship, the last thing on their mind is getting involved with foreign affairs. Leave it to BYU students to make the transition from students to American-Israeli advocates look easy.
On March 5, a student team from BYU attended the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. The BYU team was awarded the Duke Rudman Annual Leadership Award that recognized its effort in creating a model for pro-Israel political activism on the BYU campus. Team members Greg Smith, a senior from Pennsylvania studying history, and Skip Carslon, a sophomore from Colorado studying economics, represented BYU at the conference.
The conference, which houses thousands of pro-Israel advocates, featured lectures, keynote speakers and forums. Smith and Carlson were excited to be in attendance and win the most prestigious award the conference offers to students.
Smith, who has been involved in AIPAC since 2008 and is the appointed team captain of the unofficial club, said the goal was to strengthen U.S. and Israeli relations and pass legislation in Utah. He works closely with state senators to maintain a positive relationship. He said all the work team members do is on their own time and off campus.
“I believe the best way to be an activist is not to do a rally on campus,” Smith said, “but rather to affect policy at the Capitol.”
With a strong team working closely with Smith, it seemed inevitable their hard work wouldn’t go unnoticed. Carlson joined this past year after he was referred to the club by a friend. In an email, he said he believes this provides a great opportunity to be a contributing player in the American democratic system for the good of something. His passion has led him to be an active member in fighting to maintain strong U.S.-Israeli relations.
The award the students won is the highest award given to student activism groups. BYU students beat out college students from across the country for their win. This was the first time the award was won by a non-Jewish activism group.
“The fact that a group of Mormon students from BYU could make such a difference and such an impact for the cause of Israel and Judaism really shines a great light on BYU and the church,” Carlson said. “Being engaged in the cause of protecting liberties and freedoms in the world today is an obligation as American citizens to do our part.”
Smith believes a great part of their success is the support they’ve had from the state senators. He said they are just a bunch of students with these wild ideas of changing policy and its been amazing to work with state senators who are willing to work with us with their busy schedules.
“Their work has won friends for the university and built upon our legacy and brand of excellence,” said Ryan Greenburg, BYUSA student body president, in an email. “I hope that this story inspires more students to get involved in whatever their interest. Any student can achieve greatness if they so desire. This is a classic story of two young people going above and beyond anyone’s expectations and making a difference not only in our community or state, but nationally and internationally.”