Five days a week for the past four years, Chandler Jones’ alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., a full two hours before the first bell at Evans High School.
He and dozens of other area high school students in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began every weekday of their high school careers with Seminary.
It’s the name of the church’s intensive study program for students in grades nine through 12. In four years, students memorize 100 Scriptures and work their way through the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and the church’s Doctrine and Covenants.
This week, 16 students from five Latter-day Saints congregations received diplomas at the North Belair Road church in Evans. Several were honored for perfect attendance.
The program dates to 1912, when the first Mormon Seminary class was held in Salt Lake City. For 100 years, students have gathered to learn religious history, study Scripture and memorize verses.
“For the first time, I have seen how God interacted with people in the Old Testament,” the focus text for the most recent school year, said Alyssa Urbanawiz, who graduated from Evans High last weekend. “I gained a better sense of how God interacts with me.”
Thousands of youths in more than 140 countries participate every year, according to the church.
The purpose, according to David Bradley, the area’s Seminary supervisor, is “to help the young people deepen their faith and build a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Many participate in addition to advanced classes, sports and other extracurricular activities.
During football season, Jones said, he leaves the house before 6 a.m., attends the 50-minute Seminary, goes to school and doesn’t return home until 7:30 p.m., when he has homework and readings for the next day’s Seminary class.
Seminary is worth the extra effort it requires, said Ricky Manuel, 15, who participated in his first year of seminary as a freshman at Lakeside High.
“Waking up is a pain for the most part, but when you do it, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “While going to Seminary, my grades starting getting better and better. When I didn’t go, I didn’t have very good days.”
Madison South, 15, also completed her first year. At first, the freshman at Strom Thurmond High said she didn’t want to go because she had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.
“I realized it made me a more responsible person,” she said. “Seminary teaches you a lesson. It’s helped me with my personal prayer to my holy Father.”
Donna Lowry has taught Seminary classes for five years and says she volunteers for the program, which is open to students from all faiths, because she sees it changing their lives.
“To me, the most important thing is to give them the tools to read Scripture on their own and teach them how to find the answers,” the Evans woman said. “Nowhere else are they getting this sort of in-depth study. It sets them up for life.”