I spent my high school years within shouting distance of BYU and the MTC. Timpview High School sits at the base of the Wasatch mountains among a well-kept quiet neighborhood. It’s students tend to skew affluent and the school has a local reputation for snobbery – though I didn’t notice any more of that than you see in any public school. On the other side of the student parking lot, creeping up into the foothills, sits the Seminary Building.
Timpview’s seminary building is almost the size of a standard LDS stake center. With recent remodeling, the place must have nearly a dozen classrooms, a large front office and about 20 faculty offices. I couldn’t say for sure, but the place did seem like a bit of a CES proving-ground where the rare few who can actually secure a full-time paid religious teaching gig “find their wings” before flying off to the CES youth speaking circuit. Our head seminary teacher was a highly charismatic motivational-speaker type who later went on to run Utah Valley State College’s on-campus Institute Building. Each time the bell rang for students to head to their next class on the high school campus, you’d see a stream of nearly 100 students trudging up or down the parking lot, heading to or from the Seminary building (to accommodate demand, each student at Timpview received on “release time” hour each day for Seminary attendance). Early in the school year, you might even see a few hapless Freshman standing in a line waiting for the “Freshman shuttle bus” to drive them to the Seminary building at the top of the parking lot.
All in all, I was indifferent to Seminary. I grew up in a devout household and my father was a “scriptorian” in the classic sense of the word. By the time I entered the MTC, I must have read the Book of Mormon over a dozen times, with the Pearl of Great Price, New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants coming in not far behind. I knew all the Gospel stories backwards and forwards. And, quite frankly, I was a snotty adolescent know-it-all.
Which isn’t to say I never learned anything, never laughed at a teacher’s jokes (some of those guys were genuinely entertaining), or was never spiritually moved. I had all those things. But it just wasn’t something I looked forward to and I viewed the Seminary youth leadership council as akin to beings from a distant planet. Once I was driving a car to school my senior year, I even skipped class a couple of times to go visit the local video arcade instead.
But it really was hard to take Seminary all that seriously. The main reason was that I wasn’t entirely sure my teachers were taking the whole thing seriously (everyone knew a lot of the students weren’t taking it seriously). Mainly, it was the grades.
You can’t tell me grades don’t matter to the typical adolescent student. By that time in a child’s public indoctrination, grades are being touted as the be-all-end-all of individual worth. The barometer of individual character, litmus test of personal work-ethic, number-one predictor of mortal success, and (in Utah anyway) a sign of personal righteousness.
As far as grades went with at least half my Seminary teachers though, they pretty-much blew them off. Oh, they had the standard tests and worksheets, and maybe an occasional project. But when it came down to grading time, they just really weren’t that strict about it.
Seminary grades in the 1990s, were negotiable. I witnessed silly young girls charm and giggle their way up the grading scale fairly regularly. I saw deadbeat guys skip half their classes, utterly disrupt the few classes they did attend, and bomb all the class assignments and win Bs after a few jokes with the teacher and an appeal to the teacher’s own “inner-cool.”
And it was all cool in the kingdom apparently. After all, “God never created a failure,” right?
Maybe so. But I never got the feeling that all this mattered either. In the end, I sat through a Seminary graduation ceremony among hundreds of other graduating seniors on BYU campus a couple days before the equally large High School graduation ceremony in BYU’s Marriot Center. I listened to the speakers with utter disinterest. Walked to the podium in-turn. Received my diploma and handshake. Went home and put my diploma in a box where, for all I know it still sits today. Because I haven’t looked at it since.