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Looking Back, Looking Forward and Phage Hunters: A Q&A with the Student Commencement Speaker

At BYU's Commencement exercises this month, Alicia Stanton will represent the graduates as the student speaker. Like her fellow classmates Stanton, who is earning a bachelor's degree in molecular biology with a minor in editing, has accomplished a lot during her time at BYU. 

She helped develop a writing curriculum for the biology major and she was a writer and editor for the College of Life Sciences Magazine. Off campus she interned at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Liahona magazine, she was the managing editor for the website Mormon Insights and served a mission in Santa Rosa, Calif. Stanton has done editing for the Church History Department’s George Q. Cannon journals project and will continue working there after after graduation.

University Communications' intern Holly Kendall caught up with Stanton to ask her a few questions about her BYU experience and what advice she'd give other students. 

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Q: First off, your Honors project was titled Phage Hunter Writers. You've got to tell us, just what are 'phage hunter writers'!?

Alicia Stanton: Phage Hunters is a nationwide research program that helps undergraduates get involved in real scientific research as early as their freshman year. They get to collect soil samples, isolate bacteria-infecting viruses (phages) from the soil, study phage genetic information, and even name their phages.

My project was all about getting more writing into the Phage Hunters course here at BYU. Writing is a big part of real scientific research, but we don’t always practice our scientific writing skills much as undergraduates. So for my project, I worked with Julianne Grose in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology and Zach Largey in the Department of English to develop a writing curriculum for the Phage Hunters course. It was a lot of work, and it was very rewarding, especially because the curriculum we produced is something that the Phage Hunters class will continue to use even after I've graduated.

Q: Through internships, experience writing curriculum, completing an Honors project, along with classes projects and, undoubtedly, a life outside of school, you've been busy. What motivates you? 

A.S.: I didn’t set out to accomplish great things at BYU. I just wanted to make the most of my opportunity to be here. That led me to participate in the different activities and programs that in turn helped me do some really cool things. I feel like I got to make my BYU education my own, and I’m really happy about that.

Q: Speaking at Commencement is a great honor. How did you feel when you were asked represent students at graduation?

A.S.: When I was first invited to be one of three people who would pitch some ideas for a commencement speech, I felt stunned. First of all, I didn’t even know that there would be a student speaker at Commencement. And I didn’t feel particularly qualified to be giving advice to other students because I’m in the same boat with them. At the same time, I felt very honored by the opportunity, and I thought a lot about what I might want to say. I hope that it will be a speech that people will enjoy—I’m not the best at telling jokes, but I’ve tried to find other ways to keep it interesting… mostly by keeping it short!

Q: Looking back on your BYU experience, what advice would you give to students still working toward graduation?

A.S.: It’s really important to realize that classes are not your college experience. They are one important part of it, but if all you do is study hard and get good grades, then all you’ll have is a great GPA and a degree when you graduate.

To make the most of your experience at BYU, start early to look for ways to get hands-on experiences and develop employable skills. There are plenty of opportunities, regardless of what you are studying. Not only will this allow you to build a great resume before you’ve even officially entered the workforce but it will also help you cultivate confidence and problem-solving abilities that will help you serve better in your family, the Church and wherever else Heavenly Father might need you.

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