Students react to missionary age change

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By Crystal Myler, Shawn Fielding and Sarah Michael

For middle-aged women in America, 40 is considered the new 30. For young women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19 is the new 21.

In a historic announcement in the Saturday morning session of General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson stated that all worthy 18-year-old young men and 19-year-old young women are eligible to serve full-time LDS missions.

Mouths literally gaped open at the Conference Center immediately following President Monson’s remarks. Tweets and Facebook posts bombarded social media, and the BYU dorms exploded.

“Everyone was knocking on the doors and screaming. I just thought, is this real?” said freshman Monique Jones, who woke up alarmed to hear women running down the hallways. “I did think I was dreaming for a bit, and then I realized if I was dreaming I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. It really (sank) in later when I was talking to my dad,” said Jones, who is from Kansas City.

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.

Later that night, while the freshman men were at Priesthood session, the dorms still buzzed with women discussing the news. Freshman Allie Carter, from San Diego, said friends are already making plans to leave campus soon. “I have friends here in the dorms saying they want to go after Christmas. The first person to call our bishop today to schedule an appointment … was my suite mate,” Carter said.

Jaelyn Arrington, 18, from Pittsburgh, Penn., 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?”

Young men are excited for the opportunity to serve a mission and even more excited that they can go earlier instead of waiting until they are 19.

“Many of the young men I know have the desire to start their papers right away,” said Josh Prince, a political science major from Las Vegas. “One young man I know requested an interview to start his papers not even five minutes after President Monson’s talk ended.”

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.

The exciting news however, left some feeling a little unsure.

“I think it is more stressful for girls who are unsure because they are being bombarded by girls saying, ‘I’m going, I’m going,’ and they don’t want other people to look and them and say, ‘You’re not going?’ I think it will be hard for some girls,” Carter said.

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.”

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 the Church will see a response from its young people.

“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.

“We’re gonna get many more missionaries out,” said Russell Fitzpatrick, an undecided major from Orange County, Calif. “A lot of people, ages 18–19, really don’t know what to do. Now they’ll be able to go on a mission.”

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