PROVO -- In October 2012 Pres. Thomas S. Monson changed the lives of young men and women throughout The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with less than 300 words.
"I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19 ... ," Monson said.
Several local high schools say they're seeing some students pushing to graduate early so they can serve LDS missions.
Important in Monson's announcement were the words "who have graduated from high school or its equivalent." For some young men that meant not only hastening the Lord's work, but their school work as well.
Ready to serve
Salem Hills High School senior Tristan Giles has put his shoulder to the wheel for his diploma. According to his father, Paul Giles, Tristan has taken early morning Seminary and institute classes to get his four-year graduation from LDS Seminary. He will have all his credits and work ready to receive his diploma within the next week. He turns 18 on Feb. 20.
"He's one of those kids that you wonder how he does what he does," Paul Giles said. "When the prophet lowered the age it was an answer to his prayers."
Paul Giles said he and wife, Julie, would not have let their son go early if he didn't have all of his credits.
Tristan has submitted his mission papers, and he will be ready to leave as soon as he turns 18.
For his parents, that means two sons will be on missions at the same time. Their older son opted to wait. He is now 21 and has received a call to Ghana, Africa, and will leave in March.
The Giles are an example of what Monson stressed about preparedness. There is now an opportunity to focus earlier on preparing to labor both spiritually, physically and emotionally as an LDS missionary.
In a news story posted on LDS.org, Larry Gibson, first counselor in the church's Young Men organization said of the announcement, "It excited me. I felt joy and anticipation, and then all of a sudden fear struck."
Gibson said he started to wonder if the young people would be prepared for missionary service. He started to think about all they would need to know to serve missions.
"Some of them would need to learn how to serve as branch presidents and Relief Society presidents," he said. "They would need to learn to keep their rooms clean, dress appropriately, work hard, have mature social interactions and be self-reliant. They need to make sure they have a good driving record so they could be called to positions in the mission that include driving a car. They need to be careful about what they put on social networks. Most important, they have to know how to have the Spirit to be with them."
Tristan Giles' friend Tavan Finau is also set to graduate. According to mother Melissa Finau he's finished all his credits. He turned 18 in November and his mission papers are ready. However, while the paper work is done Melissa Finau said Tavan will most likely go in June as regularly planned.
"I want him to walk in graduation," she said.
In the meantime, Tavan will be working and putting money in the bank as he waits for his mission call to arrive.
High school seniors
A quick call to several area high school counseling offices revealed there is not much of a rush to graduate early, but they are all well aware of the numbers of young men who are or have put in their mission papers for the day after they graduate.
"We don't see that rush here," Nan Theobald, head counselor at Provo High School, said. "There are more benefits to staying at Provo High. It doesn't make sense to graduate early."
She did say if there were interest from individuals to graduate early for missions, they would help them in that endeavor. Theobald said many of the seniors are involved in concurrent enrollment or AP classes that have to be carried through to the end of the year.
"We have a list of early grads, but not for that reason," said Denise Jensen, registrar at Mountain View High School in Orem. "There are no more now than over the years."
Timpanogos High School is similar.
"There is only one person that I know of and we didn't have any last year," said Julie Shipp, a Timpanogos High School adviser over scholarships and colleges.
She said that even while 18-year-old seniors have turned in mission papers saying they are ready for service after their graduation date, they should make sure they register with their favorite college.
"They still need to apply for colleges and then defer," she said. "It will be easier for them to have it in place before they leave."
The Payson High School counseling office also noted that while there are some graduating early, most seniors are opting to stay the whole year and leave on missions at the end of the school year.
Nate Warner, head guidance counselor at Timpview High School, said he has worked with a few students who intend to graduate at least a term early. He said that the majority of males who are really serious about serving will leave before they attend college.
"I think we'll still see a surge of 18-year-olds going this summer," Warner said.
During the press conference after Monson's announcement, Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, emphasized that the change is an option, not an edict.
"These age adjustments are new options now available to bishops in evaluating what is best for each of their youth," he said. "Young men and young women should not begin their service before they are ready spiritually and temporally."
He stated that schooling, family circumstances, health, and so forth still remain important considerations for the timing of missionary service.