Helaman Halls was filled with shrieks, tears and disbelief as President Thomas S. Monson announced the change in the minimum age requirement for missionaries in Saturday morning’s Conference session.
The prophet announced young men would now be allowed to enter service at the age of 18 instead of 19, and the minimum requirement for young women would change from 21 to 19.
McKenna Tracy, 18, from Mercer Island, Wash., compared the announcement to the priesthood becoming available to every worthy male in 1978.
“It makes me think about when blacks received the priesthood. It feels like one of those days. There are so many opportunities for so many more people now,” Tracy said.
Kelly Vaugh, a technology and engineering education major who will soon turn 19, planned to sleep in and watch the opening session late, but woke to screaming down the hall. Friends explained the situation, and Vaugh was soon on the phone with her mom announcing she would be leaving on a mission.
“I had an experience this summer where I learned I owe it to the Savior to go on a mission,” Vaugh said.
Vaugh has already called her bishop to schedule an interview.
For many freshmen, this means that missions they planned on serving in a year or more could now be only months away. This is especially true of young women.
Jaelyn Arrington, 18, from Pittsburg, Pa., talked about the previous mentality of women going on missions, and the change she expects to take place.
“(Girls thought) if I am not married by the time I am 21, then I’ll consider a mission, but it’s not like that any more,” Arrington said. She says the questions now are, “Is this what’s best for you? Is this what you really want to do, to devote your time to serving God?”
Students also believe this will change the dynamics of dating at BYU.
“Dating and boys, I don’t even care anymore,” Tracy said. Since some young men currently find themselves with the same mindset before their missions, Tracy said, “It’s mutual now.”
Tracy went on to point out that young men will come back and be able to date female return missionaries their own age.
Josh Fuller, 18, from Gilbert, Ariz., joked that dating dynamics would change dramatically.
“It’s going to be great for RMs because RM girls will be just as awkward as RM guys,” he said.
Some students expressed concern about the reaction toward those who do not choose to leave earlier, noting that finances, education, scholarships and personal readiness may delay those who might otherwise desire to go.
The only thing I’d be worried about is possibly people being judged for not going when they’re 18,” Fuller said. “People are going to see 18 is the norm, and if you don’t go at 18, then people think ‘bad Mormon.'”
DJ Dalley, from Gilbert, Ariz., agreed that the change should not affect one’s assessment of those around them.
“The mission isn’t for everybody,” Dalley said. “I don’t feel like people should be discriminated against because they didn’t go. Just because the age has changed doesn’t mean we get to judge people for not going on a mission.”
Arrington expressed concern that male and female missionaries will be the same age while serving.
“What if people start to like each other on their mission? It takes away from the focus,” she said. But she went on, “The comfort that I have with that is the General Authorities have probably already thought about this. If it was something that was going to be that much of a problem, I feel like God would warn them.”
Whether they called their bishop today, or just see a mission on the near horizon, students took the announcement as a call to action.
“I don’t think I am ready to leave immediately, but I am definitely ready to start preparing,” Tracy said. “Ever since the announcement, I have been thinking ‘I need to read my scriptures more, I don’t really know that much, and I need to change my habits.’ It’s definitely a motivation.”
Fuller believes President Monson’s words were revelation for this time and that we will see a response from the young people of the Church.
“Heavenly Father would not have let this revelation come forth unless we were prepared to receive it and be prepared to respond to the call,” Fuller said.