BYU’s April 2018 class was the first graduating class with more female graduates who had served missions than hadn’t. This comes almost six years after President Monson announced the missionary age change.
Former missionary and 2018 graduate Brittani Pierce was one of those affected by the lower mission age requirements.
“A mission had always been sort of far off, and then it suddenly became something that was possible — something I could do,” Pierce said.
In 2012, President Thomas S. Monson announced a change in the age requirement for all missionaries. For young men, the age was lowered from 19 to 18. For women, it was lowered from 21 to 19.
Pierce was one of the first missionaries to leave after the missionary age change. At the time of the announcement, she was 18 and had never planned on serving a mission. That all changed after President Monson’s message.
“The whole day after the announcement, I was thinking I could go on a mission in a year,” Pierce said. “And that’s when it became more than a thought: it was a desire.”
Pierce said she had always been influenced by her mother, who had served a mission. During her mother’s time, however, women serving missions were in the minority. Now, the majority of female graduates are returned missionaries.
The number of female returned missionary graduates has steadily increased over the past few years. In 2016, 34 percent of female graduates served missions; in 2017, 45 percent had served; in 2018, the number surpassed 50 percent.
“It’s cool to be a part of a movement,” Pierce said.
And although she has been home from her mission for several years, Pierce said her time as a missionary changed her life forever.
“A mission gave me perspective, it gave me more compassion and more understanding,” Pierce said.
BYU Director of Women’s Services and Resources Dixie Sevison said a mission is a great opportunity to help students grow and develop maturity.
“Missions teach great life skills that transition well into real-life situations,” she said. “I do believe having more of our student body as returned missionaries has changed the maturity level and focus of our students.”
Renata Forste, director of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and a women’s studies professor, said the increase of women serving missions makes a difference in leadership.
“Missions help women find and feel more comfortable using their voice,” Forste said.
Forste continued to say that when the church created opportunities for women to serve in leadership positions as Sister Training Leaders, it fostered an environment of confidence for these women.
Returned missionary and 2018 graduate Lisa Willes said her mission improved her academic experience. “My mission made me a better student and a more confident one.”
For Willes, her mission made all the difference in her life. She said it has affected her spiritually, socially and emotionally and taught her to reach beyond herself and make friends with a variety of people.
“My mission will have a great impact on the rest of my life,” Willes said. “It already has.”