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The Magic of Lifelong Learning through Literature with Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson gave the 2021 Honored Alumni Lecture for the BYU College of Humanities.

Bonnie Oscarson
Photo by Lupita Herrera

Bonnie Oscarson's lifelong journey of learning through literature began under an apricot tree in Bountiful, Utah. Under-neath that tree, she opened her favorite books and was carried away to countless worlds. “There is magic in literature. I found that I could be transported in time and space to different places and cultures,” Bonnie said. “I could understand what it felt like to be an orphan or a grandfather or a princess in a fairy tale.” Books taught her critical lessons throughout her life that led her to earn a degree in English and embrace church callings.

Learning from Literature at All Stages of Life

“I was blessed to be born into a home with parents who loved learning and who encouraged their children to read and learn, and they modeled it themselves,” Bonnie said. Growing up with parents who encouraged her to read created a passion within her. “It was a joy, and I just learned to relish entering other worlds.” At BYU, she took to the best books and professors, and loved pursuing her degree. She met and married her husband, and they decided to start a family; then she paused her college studies to focus on raising her children. One Sunday years later in Houston, Texas, she saw a flyer on the church bulletin board that said she could get her degree online. Bonnie had an overwhelming feeling that she should finish her degree in English literature, which was scary, but she did it. She loved her coursework, and earning that degree was the springboard for many more adventures.

Studying Literature Prepared Her to Serve

As her life unfolded after graduating from BYU, Bonnie saw clearly why she had needed to finish her degree. For one thing, learning Swedish prepared her to be called with her husband as temple matron for the Stockholm Sweden Temple. There, she trained new workers, instructed sisters in receiving their endowments, and spoke in wards throughout Sweden. A few years later, when she was called as Young Women General President, she wrote many talks and articles and shepherded them through relentless vetting. She recognized how her prompting to finish her degree and her subsequent immersion in studying and writing about great literature prepared her to take on such callings.

Learning through Literature is for Everyone

One of the most important lessons Bonnie discovered through literature is that learning is an ongoing journey. “Reading and literature have always been a joy and an escape and have filled my life with thoughts and experiences I could have had in no other way. Literature has made my life richer and more meaningful,” Bonnie said. “My opportunity to learn from scholars and teachers in the College of Humanities has helped me be more compassionate, have more empathy, more awareness of the world. Those learning experiences have changed me in ways I cannot begin to name.” Bonnie’s pursuit of learning began in fictional worlds under an apricot tree, but her lifelong journey taught her that you can find magic and meaning in every part of your life.

This article was included in the Fall 2021 issue of the Humanities alumni magazine.