Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes spoke at a student alumni event about how his time at BYU prepared him for life beyond campus.
PROVO, Utah (Mar. 15, 2016)—A humanities education is the point at which the path forks in hundreds of directions. For Sean Reyes, an English major at BYU led to a law degree at UC Berkeley, which eventually led to his current position as Utah’s Attorney General. At a Humanities Pathways event sponsored by the college and student alumni, Reyes spoke to students and alumni about how his time at BYU prepared him for life beyond campus.
Leaving BYU, many students may feel worried about how to adjust to life away from an environment that encouraged such a heavy focus on spirituality. Reyes, however, feels no such disconnect. He said, “I learned that even in very secular environments . . . you can still have a spiritual orientation.”
“I think we talk too little about God, faith and prayer in government, and I think we talk about it too little in business.” Reyes has striven to keep religion present in his work. This focus has helped him to connect better with people of other faiths, Christian or otherwise. Rather than drive a wedge between, his focus on faith has built bridges.
In 2008, a national legal organization honored Reyes with its first-ever National Outstanding Young Lawyer Award and invited him to speak at a large and special gathering. In preparation, Reyes wrote his speech and submitted it for the organization’s approval. After reviewing it, certain representatives of the organization expressed some concern. Specifically, they advised him to remove so many references to God, faith and quotes by spiritual leaders – including LDS leaders such as David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson and Joseph Smith – fearing it would alienate his audience.
Reyes respected their concerns, but defended his speech, explaining to them, “I can’t properly express my feelings about the law and the noble work we do . . . without acknowledging God, without acknowledging His divine hand and elements of prayer and faith, because that’s really what got me here.”
The organization agreed, and Reyes went on to give his speech as written, receiving a standing ovation. Not a single member of the audience claimed offense. A number of attendants even approached him afterwards to thank him for his speech, remarking that they had never heard God spoken of at an event like this before and that it was a refreshing change of perspective.
“What BYU taught me is to be who you are,” Reyes told the students and alumni. “Stand up for the principles that you have.”
Reyes credited his humanities training in particular for preparing him to serve other people. “[It’s] all about humanity. It’s about remembering the souls of people and themes like redemption.” This understanding supports Reyes as his position brings him to confront the dark underbelly of humanity.
Human trafficking has been a concern of Reyes’s since entering law, but he has seen what he calls a “paradigm shift” take place during this time. Legal action has expanded from simple investigation and prosecution measures to include a victim-centered approach. Specific care is now taken to help victims recover from the atrocities of human trafficking and to give them the tools they need (counseling, education, job training, etc.) to rebuild their lives.
According to Reyes, this change in approach is thanks to people who were enabled by a humanities education to look at problems from a different angle. “[They] not only look at the end result, the bottom line, but also look at the human capital and also look at the effects on our souls, individually and as a society.”
Reyes closed his remarks by reminding the crowd of BYU’s motto, “Go forth and serve,” saying, “Any success you have in business will not be as gratifying or fulfilling if you don’t do . . . service around that.”
—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)
Samuel covers events for the English Department for the College of Humanities. He is a senior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.