Julie Beck: The nontraditional student

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Julie Beck greets students and alumni after her Homecoming Week speech. Beck received the 2014 BYU Homecoming Alumni Achievement Award for the College of Family Home and Social Sciences. (Ari Davis)

Sister Julie B. Beck came to BYU as a newlywed with only $3 and an old Plymouth. She and her husband, Ramon, had to survive a month until payday.

“It was a miracle that first month that we had gas money to get to school,” Sister Beck said.

Sister Beck, who served as 15th Relief Society general president, was honored with the 2014 BYU Homecoming Alumni Achievement Award for the College of Family Home and Social Sciences. Her speech during Homecoming Week illustrated her journey through BYU as a nontraditional student.

Sister Beck and her husband worked full-time their first semester at BYU but still ran out of money. She dropped out in order to help her husband attend college.

“Often we think … eventually what we dreamed of when we were younger will take place,” Sister Beck said. She counseled to enjoy life’s experiences even if it wasn’t the original plan because the Lord has his own plan for each person.

Sister Beck shared her parents’ dream for all of their children to graduate from college. Her parents wrote this goal on a paper sack on their honeymoon and never forgot their dream after the sack was thrown away.

Sister Beck was told by a college entrance counselor in high school that she should “go learn a skill and do something else.” Her entrance exam scores were not very high, since she missed school as a sick child, but she was determined to get her education.

“I didn’t know what to do, but I did know my parents had this goal, so I thought, ‘I don’t care what you say, I’m going to college,'” Sister Beck said.

She received her associate degree from Dixie College before she was married, but many of her credits were discounted when she came to BYU.

Pressure began to build after Sister Beck’s younger siblings began graduating from BYU. She had two young children by that time, but her older sister, Glenda, came to the rescue.

“(Glenda) took on an extra 1-year-old and 3-year-old, and I started (school),” Sister Beck said.

Sister Beck took 18 credit hours to get the most for her money. She went to school three days a week and performed her duties as ward Primary president on the other days as she watched her children.

“It was actually very fun to come back to campus,” Sister Beck said. She knew how to organize her time and priorities, she had improved thinking skills, and she knew how to apply herself.

“Really, I think it was a blessing for the Lord to delay that opportunity to a time when I could appreciate it and really learn those skills,” Sister Beck said.

She majored in child development and family relationships and loved her classes because they related to her roles as a wife and mother.

Sister Beck took independent study courses during the semesters her husband was gone for the National Guard. Her sacrifices and dedication made her education even more worthwhile.

She said her last semester before graduating was exhausting. The week before midterms, her son Joseph got sick with pneumonia and two ear infections.

Sister Beck’s ward was then split, and she lost 15 Primary teachers and both of her counselors. She missed more than a week of school, had unfinished assignments as tests piled up, and she was ready to flunk out. “It was impossible,” Sister Beck said. “It was just too big a hill to climb.”

One day she rolled over to go back to bed after her alarm went off for her to go back to school. “I quit!” she said.

Fortunately her husband kept her going when he said, “What? I work way too hard for this degree. Get out there and go to school.”

Somehow she dragged through the next week and finished her midterms. Joseph got better, and the ward was organized.

Sister Beck saw a mist along the mountains near the Y as she came out of her last test that semester. She thought, “The heavens are weeping for joy. We did it.”

Sister Beck’s education paved the way for her to be an influential Relief Society general president and Young Women’s general presidency member, in which capacities she traveled approximately 1 million miles, performed humanitarian work all over the world, gave more than 500 talks and averaged 15 messages a week.

She also served on the Executive and General Councils for Welfare and the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund, the Church Board of Education, the board of trustees for Church universities and the LDS Family Services Board. She chaired the Personal Progress revision committee and oversaw publication of “Daughters in My Kingdom.”

Sister Beck said coming back to BYU gave her confidence, the ability to study and learn and the credentials that were necessary for her to perform her future work for her family, the Church and the world. “What an amazing experience for a woman who shared $3 with her husband on the day she got married,” Sister Beck said.

Sister Beck highlighted her family members in attendance at her speech on Thursday. She attended BYU with five of her siblings and said they had their own corner of the library together.

She attributed her Alumni Achievement Award to her family and said it was not her own award, but “our award, our honor, because of our parents’ vision.”

Sister Beck’s husband, all nine of her siblings and many of their spouses graduated from BYU. Sister Beck’s three children and 17 of her nieces and nephews graduated from BYU. Her oldest grandchild will be applying to BYU soon.

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