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Davis Journal

Coming to BYU in 72

Sep 01, 2022 02:41PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

It’s that time of year when school is starting again, for students from elementary to university. There’s always something fun about starting anew, something addictive about beginnings. Fall annually presents one to me.

I’ve been looking back to this time in 1972, 50 years ago at the end of August, when I first came to the Beehive State as a college sophomore, ready to begin my studies at BYU. It was perhaps one of the best fall seasons of my life.

There’s an “autumn smell” to the mountains, an “autumn feel” in so many ways when classes reconvene at the “Y.” And 1972 was a banner year to be in Provo.

It was the second year that then 40-year-old Dallin H. Oaks was president of the university. Lavell Edwards was about to enjoy his first game as head coach of the BYU football team. (They were not favored in the season opener against Kansas State, but blew the Wildcats out 32-9. The Cougars finished 7-4 in Lavell’s first season at the helm). That unexpected victory kind of set the tone for the rest of BYU athletics that year. 

I inhaled the fresh autumn air, settled into an off-campus apartment on 900 East, took my first communications classes in the still relatively new Harris Fine Arts Center (ironically, soon to be razed), and looked out as the centennial carillon clock tower was under construction (it was officially opened for the school’s 100th birthday in 1975). Here I was, my first year at university after one year at a California JC, a freshly minted Latter-day Saint ready to make my mark in journalism. There were detours along the way, like a semester I took off to go back home to earn some tuition, but somehow I endured three years in Provo, and eventually graduated with famed Hollywood director Frank Capra speaking at my college commencement in 1976.

That autumn was my first exposure to young people from many different states. There were fellow Californians – a lot of them actually – who teased each other that we were attending the University of California at Provo. There were students from small towns in Utah and Idaho who often asked me if I knew their long-time friends who also lived in California. “No,” I’d tell them, “I don’t know all 21 million who live there, but I have met a few.”

I was envious that during the holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, many BYU students could go back home with short drives – one hour, two hours, four to six hours max. My trips home either involved long 12 hour-plus drives across desolated Nevada or airline flights. I clearly remember flying into Salt Lake International when it had just one terminal and an awful baggage claim system. The memories remain, even though that terminal is long gone.

And my first visit to Provo was at night. It wasn’t until the next morning when those amazing Wasatch Mountains appeared to the east of me. I didn’t realize then, and sometimes forget even now, how beautiful these valleys are here in Utah.

What my years at university left me with, in addition to a degree, were connections, friendships that have endured in the decades since. Many of my college professors have passed, but their messages and lessons have remained. 

As I’ve watched my grandchildren return to school the past couple of weeks, and read of friends who’ve also had their loved ones leave for college, it brings back so many great moments from that first year at BYU, in Provo, in Utah. I always think about them this time of year. I probably always will.λ