After graduating from high school, Abby Thatcher admits that she was academically burned out.
Perhaps it was the numerous AP courses she’d taken or the countless hours she’d invested in extracurricular activities. Whatever the cause, she welcomed a brief reprieve from the rigors of academic endeavors. After working a summer job, she chose to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was assigned to what was then the Georgia Macon Mission. It was in the hot humidity of the deep South that Abby discovered her passion — helping others improve their lives through literacy.
“I got to work with some really down-to-earth, fabulous, good-hearted people,” she recalled. “Some people I worked with were illiterate or hadn’t completed beyond a seventh-grade education. Part of our missionary work turned into helping people learn to read to a level where they could improve their life circumstances, and then come closer to God.”
Thatcher was inspired as she witnessed the ways in which education changed the lives of those she served in Georgia. She returned from her mission with a passion to learn all she could to help others. After taking a humanities class at BYU–Idaho, Thatcher recognized this field as an area she could thrive in. She transferred to BYU in the spring of 2018 and pursued an interdisciplinary humanities major.
Dedicated faculty members such as Dr. Francesca Lawson and Dr. Matthew Wickman helped Thatcher develop her unique talents and suggested that she consider a future career in academia, and particularly in English literature.
After a series of internships, one with the Utah Trafficking in Persons Task Force in the Utah Attorney General’s Office and one international internship with the Scottish Parliament, Thatcher was able to identify the things she liked (and the things that she wasn’t as fond of) in international relations and political literacy. After returning to Provo from Scotland, she declared a second major in English.
“The BYU College of Humanities offered me a unique opportunity to study both broadly and deeply. Yes, I’ve learned about great cultures, but it’s more than that. We’ve studied these cultures and explored the ways in which God’s children express themselves creatively. I’m continuing to look at how people seek to honor themselves, their families, and ultimately their deity in ways that are expansive and creative to them,” she said.
With the flame of learning reignited, Thatcher plans to pursue a PhD after graduating from BYU this spring. She’s already been accepted to more than a half-dozen prestigious programs across the nation, including UC Berkeley, Columbia, Vanderbilt and NYU. And while she’s still in the process of choosing where to attend graduate school, Thatcher says her time at BYU has been foundational in shaping her future.
“It’s been a privilege to come to BYU, and I want to make sure I’m living up to that incredible privilege,” she said. “I feel called by God to a life of teaching and helping those who might be less fortunate.”
Wickman, who is the BYU Humanities Center founding director, knows Thatcher will be a light wherever she chooses to go next. “She is an extraordinary person; confident and yet amazingly humble — a unique combination,” he said.
Reflecting on her years at BYU, Thatcher says it’s an experience that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the example of her parents. Thatcher’s father didn’t attend college until age 27. It took him five years to complete his undergraduate degree since he first had to complete remedial math classes. Today, he’s a triple board-certified psychiatrist.
“I’m so grateful I got to watch my father learn to learn,” said Thatcher. “I’ve seen him change over the years because of his continuing education. Even though I’ll be a different type of doctor, I am getting to grow up to be like my dad, and that’s what I always wanted.”