Mark Anderson graduates 28 years after coming to BYU

This week, as Mark Anderson receives his Bachelor of General Studies degree in American studies from BYU, he will probably take time to celebrate the accomplishment with professors and classmates, family and friends. But during all the well-deserved pomp and circumstance, Anderson will certainly be thinking about one person who was an inspiration in his academic pursuits but won’t be at graduation: his son Reed.

When Reed was three, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although as Reed grew up, the tumor and treatments made it hard for him to learn, getting an education was always the goal.

“He really felt his mission was to get a college degree and go into medical field, but memorization had become almost impossible for him,” said Anderson. “His desire was to help people with physical pain [but] his desire to fulfill his dream of graduating from college was not met [before he died].”

After Reed died three years ago, Anderson considered his own life goals, as well as the goals of his son.

“I thought a lot about that after he passed away,” said Anderson. “One of the ways I can honor his memory is to go back to school and complete something that he really wished he could have done.”

Going back to school to complete his degree was not easy for Anderson, who is now 52. In his first class after coming back, a history course taught by Spencer Fluhman, the first fellow student Anderson met asked him if he was supposed to be there.

“I asked myself the same question: Am I supposed to be here?” Anderson said. “Afterwards I went up and spent a few minutes with Professor Fluhman, and he was so kind. He assured me that even though being gone for 25 years is a lot of time, if I studied, I would do just fine. That gave me a sense of hope and the ability to face the fears that I was dealing with. There has not been one course I have taken that has been above my comprehension.”

As it turned out, Anderson quickly found that his maturity and a life experiences gave him great perspective helpful to his studies.

“I went from being an average student, at best, to an A student… after being gone from BYU for 28 years,” he said.

Anderson anticipates that his experience at BYU and the degree will help him in his career, but getting a better job wasn’t the end goal.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better career,” said Anderson, who has worked for many years as a regional compliance director for a large insurance company. “But every time I think about my professional credibility where I have licenses and designations, I never had my degree. I always used to tell people I went to school at BYU, which is almost a bit of a half-truth. Even though my position with my company doesn’t require me to have any more schooling, my degree does give me the credibility I felt like I needed that I didn't have.”

After completing his degree while taking many of his classes at BYU’s Salt Lake Center, Anderson is laser-focused on lifelong learning, and is even considering going back to school, again, to pursue a Master’s of Business Administration degree.

“One of the aims of BYU is continual learning,” said Anderson. “I have made a conscious decision that lifelong learning will continue after my degree here as one is never too old to learn. I’ve found that when my brain is active I feel more fulfilled.”

Writer: Brett Lee and Cindy Moorhead