While other teenagers groan at waking up before dawn for school and look forward to only one commencement ceremony, local high school youth for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attend an extra hour of education each morning and a second graduation event.
It began 100 years ago, with 70 students in Salt Lake City, Utah. By 1920 attendance numbers grew to 2,982 and now approximately 375,000 teens between the ages of 14-18 attend this four-year educational program known as Seminary.
During the 2011-2012 school year, the Fredericksburg area hosted nearly two dozen Seminary classes, all taking place an hour before the start of the local high schools. For some, this means getting up well before 5:00 AM, like many of the area commuters. The 41 graduates of the program attended approximately 720 hours of classroom hours studying books of scripture over the four years they attended the program.
Instructors range from stay at home moms to a local neurosurgeon teaching students out of their homes or at local church buildings, with lessons prepared extensively on their own time and without pay. Youth found a way to add the additional study amidst full course loads, AP classes, after-school clubs, sports, boy scouts, and jobs. Not only did they study for the daily classes, but they also memorized 100 verses of scripture during their tenure in Seminary.
The graduation ceremony included addresses by several graduates and instructors, musical presentations, a diploma awards ceremony, and a speech by Fredericksburg Stake President, D. Michael Kitchens who reminded students that through a diligent study of scripture they draw closer to Christ.
A Spotsylvania County Honor Student, Mason Poffenbarger, remarked after graduation. “It wasn’t until Seminary that I truly gained an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ as my Savior. Through the study of the gospels, He became more than a character in stories, He became alive in my life. Seminary has been a firm foundation for me to build my life around.”
This year’s study involved The Old Testament and included the prophecies and leadership of Isaiah, Moses, and Solomon. Students learned more about Esther, the ancient Tabernacles, and Ezekiel. In January, students across the world attended a special broadcast from Salt Lake City commemorating the centennial anniversary of the program.
What’s next for these youth? Some will attend similar classes for the college level known as Institute while at the university of their choice. Others will opt to serve missions, better prepared after a four-year intensive scripture study program.