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Character

BYU Grad: The Tiny Choices That Shape Our Lives

Kaia Hodgson’s undergraduate experience can be described as a time spent focusing on the little things that eventually opened up a world of opportunity.

Among her honors thesis on the concept of prosaics, her LDS mission in Ukraine, subsequent internships in Mosow at the Center for Creative Industries (CCI) Fabrika and for the U.S. State Department, and her B.A. in Russian, Hodgson’s experience at BYU has been anything but ordinary. In fact, according to this small-town girl who recently landed a job at Goldman Sachs (a leading global investment and securities management firm), it has been extraordinary.

When asked how she was able to grab hold of such noteworthy accomplishments as an undergraduate, she said that she tried to be mindful of the little things that enable bigger things.

“Our lives are shaped by tiny choices,” Hodgson said. “Although there are some that seem big and important, it’s really the small and simple decisions that we frequently make that have the greatest impact.”

Kaia Hodgson


Case Study: Majoring in Russian

Despite her initial struggle with mastering the language, Hodgson decided to major in Russian when she returned home from her LDS mission in Ukraine.

“Although my language speaking skills were probably ‘intermediate-low’ on the ACTFL proficiency scale when I got home, I felt like it was what I needed to do,” Hodgson said.

Now, if you ask Hodgson about her Russian proficiency, you’ll discover that she is ranked at ‘advanced-high,’ a personal achievement that has been earned after much hard work and dedication. As a testament to this, Hodgson was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship in 2015 for her success with the language.

Case Study: Moscow Internships

Upon entering the program, Hodgson’s first internship experience in Moscow took place during the Fall 2014 semester. She learned a lot about international aid as she frequently volunteered at a local orphanage and as she worked at CCI Fabrika, a contemporary art gallery.

“I loved my time there,” Hodgson said of her first internship in Moscow. “Beyond being a great experience, I feel like it also set me up to succeed on my second internship.”

During the Fall 2015 semester, Hodgson once again found herself in Moscow, this time as an intern at the U.S. Embassy for the State Department. For her official work with political affairs, she frequently interacted with dignitaries and crafted high-level reports that were sent back to the United States. By the end of it all, embassy officials commended her for her excellent work as a U.S. representative during her time there.

Kaia Hodgson


Case Study: Tolstoy & the Wanderers

However, it’s perhaps what Hodgson did on her own time while in Russia that speaks to what she has learned and pays tribute to the small things.

During her second semester abroad, Hodgson immersed herself in the literature of Leo Tolstoy and visited a number of sites associated with the writer’s life, including his family’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana. Additionally, she visited numerous art museums and read extensively about the group of artists commonly referred to as the Wanderers. These artists left the stodgy and confining Petersburg Academy of Art and instead traveled with their masterpieces across Russia to give the common people an experience with great art that was created with them in mind.

Prior to returning to the states, Hodgson wrote and submitted her capstone paper on the role of the Wanderers in advancing art and social reform in nineteenth-century Russia.

Case Study: Capstone & Honors Thesis/Program

Due to her experiences in Ukraine and Russia, Hodgson decided to write her honors thesis on the concept of prosaics in Tolstoy’s Anna Kareninna. When asked why, Hodgson’s response was simple.

“It’s inspiring that such an important voice came from such a tiny place,” Hodgson said of Tolstoy’s family estate just a few miles southwest of Tula, Russia. “[Tolstoy] was a powerful influence on the world.”

BYU Russian professor and thesis advisor Dr. Michael Kelly praised Hodgson’s honors thesis and her capstone paper as excellent and noted that her defense was superb.

“She responded calmly and articulately to some difficult questions,” Kelly said. “She exemplifies the endeavors in which we hope all our humanities students will be engaged and she is an outstanding representative of the Russian program.”

According to Hodgson, the kinds of experiences she had with the Honors Program would have been part of her education at BYU even if she wasn’t part of the program. To her, the study of the great works of art is an integral part of her education.

“My years at BYU have been filled with remarkable experiences,” Hodgson said. “A goal I set for myself my first day as a freshman at BYU was to graduate with University Honors. Completing the Honors Program has been rigorous and rewarding and I consider it a great personal achievement.”

Kaia Hodgson


Looking Back

Looking back, Hodgson has loved her time at BYU. According to her, she has accomplished all that she set out to do and learned a lot in the process. She will speak on some of these things at her college’s convocation on Friday as the student speaker, including why she believes that it is our duty to learn God’s will and do it.

“As students at BYU, we have been gifted something extraordinary,” Hodgson said. “Our time here has been precious, but it is not over: the servants leave the temple prepared to change the world.”

Writer: Beau Jones

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