Like 3,000 other BYU students, Sarah Axtell will put on her cap and gown and walk across the stage to collect her hard-earned diploma this week.
However, unlike many of her classmates, Axtell hasn't been looking for a full-time job or applying for post-graduate programs. She's joining the United States Peace Corps.
Axtell, who is earning a degree in sociocultural anthropology, will leave shortly after graduation for a 27-month volunteer service focused on health education in Cambodia. Axtell said she dedicated a majority of her education and life to volunteer work, and is honored to be one of only 10 percent of applicants accepted to serve in the Peace Corps.
"Doing volunteer work has made my education complete," Axtell said. "I feel the happiest when I'm advocating for and serving underserved and stigmatized populations."
HIV prevention in Utah, teen mother education and support groups, youth organizations and groups focused on stopping domestic violence are just a few of the communities Axtell has devoted herself to over the last four years.
In addition to volunteering for an average of 25 hours each week, Axtell kept a 3.97 GPA, and was named valedictorian of the anthropology department.
Her key to find success? Balance, focus and a lot of hard work.
Axtell says by focusing all her attention on one thing at a time allows her to tackle each and every project.
"I don't have an Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat. I have an email, and a phone number and that's it," Axtell said. "My life is very uncomplicated in those ways, so it can be more complicated in others. And that's the way I like it."
There is one thing that Axtell credits for much of her success: her experiences and education at BYU.
"I feel like BYU has prepared me for my future. Especially my immediate future," Axtell said. "The motto is 'Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.' And that's literally what I'm doing in Cambodia."
BYU's community and it's the emphasis on service is what lead Axtell towards her love of volunteer work. For Axtell, BYU's service-focused environment made it an easy passion to follow.
"When we look at Christ's life, He was always with those that were stigmatized and those that were exploited," Axtell said. "So being around similar populations and people is what I feel fulfilled in doing."
Axtell continuously craves for human interaction and strives to see situations with an open perspective, which is exactly what she's doing.
"The way I try to lead my life is going on decisions that feel good to my soul," Axtell said. "I don't really know why right now, but I do know that I care. And that's what's important to me."
Writer: Jenna Randle