Mitzi Yanez Lizama is a senior from Antofagasta, a small port city in northern Chile. When she first heard about Brigham Young University–Hawaii, she thought of it as a dreamy paradise but never imagined years later, she'd be graduating from there with a degree in psychology.
Lizama always knew she wanted to study psychology. So following high school, she took college courses in her hometown. However, once she returned home from her mission, she realized she wanted to study psychology in an environment that allowed her to relate the academic curriculum to gospel learning and principles. Lizama's initial admissions application was sent to BYU-Idaho, as there's a large Latino community in Rexburg, and she was already enrolled in BYU-Pathway Worldwide. But after missing just one point over the admissions score maximum on her TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam, her plan to come to Idaho was no longer an option.
Shortly after the failed attempt, a local church leader spoke to Lizama about BYU–Hawaii and the EIL (English as an International Language) program. As a result, Lizama applied, and, to her surprise, she got accepted. "I can still remember looking up BYU–Hawaii on the internet with a friend and saying, 'imagine me actually going to a place like this,' but betting it was never going to happen," said Lizama. So when she was admitted, she trusted it was the Lord's plan for her.
Following the Lord's direction, Lizama came to this small campus in the middle of the Pacific with little to no knowledge of the culture and people. At the start, she felt a little lost but knew that the university had what she needed to combine the gospel and academic pursuits.
Sharing her takeaways from this experience, Lizama said, "I've learned to appreciate God's creations, enjoy every second, even when it's hard, and although this dream wasn't what I expected or first planned for, things turned out how they needed to." Lizama continues, "I've learned about cultures and the people around me and came to love them." Meeting her husband at BYU–Hawaii is another takeaway she'll always cherish. While serving in a leadership role for the Latin America club, her roommates realized one student who wasn't particularly good at dancing but kept attending club activities. These friends concluded that he was there for someone rather than something. Lizama shares, "My friends figured he was coming for me, but he's good at dancing now!"
Over the course of her time here, Lizama has learned that living in Hawaii doesn't mean tribulation just disappears. She shares, "It hasn't been easy to be so far from home and to not have that many people from my culture around me. Even though you're in paradise, it doesn't always feel like it." But during these times of trial or challenge, Lizama would rely upon teachings from Russell M. Nelson when he said, "[We] can have joy in the midst of any circumstance if we are focused on Jesus Christ...[and as we] strive to overcome our challenges, God will bless us with the gifts of faith to be healed and of the working of miracles." This message from the Prophet reminds her that God is there, giving her these opportunities to improve and do better and that He loves her.
Before leaving this campus, Lizama wants to thank her current boss, Candice Tupou, Testing Center Manager. Sharing, "Candice saw potential in me since day one, even though I may not have seen it myself. In past jobs, I always felt expendable or quickly forgotten. But here, she saw and believed in me. I started as a testing center proctor, advanced to supervisor, and will leave this job as her student manager. Lizama also thanks her psychology professors, who made the coursework exciting. She adds, "Dr. Orr demonstrated excellence in his profession and is my role model for being a kind and caring therapist."
In parting advice to current students, Lizama encourages her classmates to "believe in yourself and trust in the plan God has for you." Living out this once-imagined dream, she's realized that everyone deserves the opportunities the Lord places in their path. She also counsels students to create a network, stating, "The people you meet now were placed in your path by God. Look for ways to serve them, and you'll be surprised at how they may bless you later in life." Lastly, find friends who will always be there for you. Having a support group when far from home was crucial to her success, and she hopes others can find the same at this campus.
As Lizama concludes this chapter, she wants to thank her family for believing in her and supporting her in different ways. She shares, "My journey here could not have been possible and successful without them." She also thanks her husband, Lukas Taylor, for his love and support. Taylor, who majored in exercise sport science, graduates alongside Lizama this semester. They will then move to Utah, where Lizama will pursue her Ph.D. at Brigham Young University in their accelerated counseling psychology program. She was one of six students accepted into this prestigious program.