At BYU’s commencement exercises this week, University Honors student Samuel Benson will represent the graduates as the student speaker. Like his fellow graduates, Benson has achieved much during his time at BYU.
With majors in both sociology and Spanish, Benson participated in diverse research projects. Using research he began during his time in the Pembroke Cambridge Summer Programme, Benson wrote his Honors thesis on the emigration patterns of British Latter-day Saints in the mid-1800s. At BYU, Benson led a group that analyzed undergraduate syllabi covering race as a researcher on Dr. Jacob Rugh’s study of racial equity at the university. Working with journalists at The Washington Post and The Atlantic, he was the lead researcher for a biography of former NBA player Charles Barkley and for a forthcoming biography of Senator Mitt Romney.
Benson has additionally pursued numerous learning opportunities off campus, including participating in BYU’s Washington Seminar, interning at POLITICO, working as a staff writer at the Deseret News and volunteering at No More a Stranger Foundation and the National Immigration Forum.
University Communications’ Christie Allen recently met with Benson to discuss Benson’s experiences at BYU and his future plans.
Christie Allen: Your undergraduate research topics ranged from Latter-day Saint migration patterns to Charles Barkley and Mitt Romney. What most engages you about doing original research?
Samuel Benson: My interest stems from my experience in the BYU Honors Program, which emphasizes interdisciplinary learning and asking big, important questions. I’m trained in sociology and Spanish, but I don’t feel that anyone has a monopoly on learning, so I like to poke my fingers in different disciplines and learn as much as I can. One of the best pieces of advice I got in my undergraduate years was to never turn down a good opportunity. I’ve tried to latch onto as many good opportunities as I can, and it’s led to some fun experiences.
CA: You’ve been part of many projects focused on creating belonging and bringing justice to marginalized groups. What have you learned from these experiences?
SB: During my four years on campus, there was a lot going on in the world in terms of social issues.
I’m just amazed by my fellow students who have found ways to express their love for the university and its mission but also a desire to make it an even more welcoming place for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, race or any other aspect of identity. I wouldn’t say I did anything special, other than just being engaged in the social life around me.
CA: How has experiential learning — such as participating in the Washington Seminar or the Cambridge summer program — enhanced your BYU education?
SB: I think those were my favorite parts of my education at BYU, and that’s not a knock on Provo, because if I hadn’t had the baseline of experiences in my major on campus, I wouldn’t have been prepared for those experiences. At Cambridge especially, being surrounded by undergraduate students from all over the world, I recognized that my classmates here at BYU are up to par with a lot of them. That made me appreciate returning to campus after these experiences all the more and engaging with world-class students and faculty.
CA: What’s been your favorite moment as a BYU student?
SB: The devotionals and forums have been remarkable. I particularly remember a forum by Reverend William Barber last year. I was in awe that we had someone of his stature, who had done so much good in the world, come to BYU and speak about the importance of creating opportunities for all people, both temporally and spiritually. I think that’s a message that resonates with a lot of Latter-day Saints because of our history and our belief in consecration and providing for all people.
CA: What are your plans for after graduation?
SB: My long-term plan is to be a journalist. For the next 18 months, I’ll be on the campaign trail covering the Republican presidential primary and the general election for the Deseret News.
CA: What’s on your mind as you prepare for graduation?
SB: Our graduating class is full of impressive students, whom I look up to both as disciples and scholars. They’re not only intelligent but are driven to fill others’ needs. I’m excited to look around 10, 20 or 30 years from now and see the amazing things the BYU class of 2023 will have done to bless the world.