Skip to main content

Growing Through Life's Plot Twists

Crystal Tania, Fall 2023 Commencement student speaker.
Photo by Crystal Tania

As the main character in her own story, Crystal Tania shares the plot twists that have created her own Hawaiian roller coaster ride while studying communications at BYU–Hawaii.

Crystal Tania, a communications, media, and culture major from Indonesia, knows people won’t remember what she says at graduation as the nominated student speaker but believes they will remember how she made them feel. 

During her internship in Boston over the summer, Tania said she helped the company’s new employees. The day after conducting a training, a woman approached her by the elevator and asked if Tania was from BYU–Hawaii. “I was shocked,” Tania said. Most people assume she goes to UH Manoa, Tania explained. She asked the woman how she had known. The woman told Tania she had visited the Polynesian Cultural Center a month ago. The feeling the woman had while interacting with BYUH students at the PCC was the same feeling she had during Tania’s training. 

Surely, she had forgotten what was said to her at the PCC, speculated Tania, but she remembered how she felt. As she moves forward in life, Tania said the biggest thing she will have taken away from her time at BYUH is the spirit of aloha. 

Getting to BYUH

Tania’s father is a BYUH alumnus. She said she grew up hearing stories from him about BYUH and saw his Facebook friends from around the world wishing him happy birthday. “I liked that,” she said, “but it wasn’t until I was 12 that I made up my mind to go to BYUH.”

A BYUH Admissions representative came to an annual church youth camp in Indonesia Tania attended. Wilma Imanuelia, a senior studying business management, grew up with Tania in Indonesia and is her unit mate. was there with her and said Tania asked the representative a lot of questions. After that, the two of them worked hard, checking in with each other on their progress to get into BYUH, Imanuelia said. 

After that meeting, Tania said she was motivated to do well in Seminary and English. Similar to a spelling bee or mathlete competitions in the United States, there are English competitions in Indonesia, she explained. Tania said her high school English teacher saw a lot of potential in her and encouraged her to join a competition hosted by a prestigious English prep school. 

“I always try to bring 101 percent to everything I do,” said Tania. Competing started as something to try out, but after she won the first round, she said she thought, “Oh, I guess I have something in me. Let me work hard to win.” She did win, first place. She and her sister both got the prize of traveling to Hong Kong. 

A Dream Fulfilled

At the groundbreaking of the school, President David O. McKay prophesied that from this place will go forth men and women of genuine gold. “I would never on a daily basis call myself genuine gold, you know?” Tania laughed. “But I’m proud to be part of that prophecy.” 

Will Gombos, the senior program manager of learning and development at Moderna, the pharmaceutical vaccine company Crystal interned with over the summer, said Tania made a cultural impact on Moderna. The company, he explained, believes in creating a space of belonging first, then inclusion. With those two steps comes diversity, he said. Tania brought this equation to life, he added, and her personality drove home the idea of starting with belonging. 

Going to school at BYUH was a dream fulfilled for Tania. She loved grandiose experiences, like Culture Night and Food Fest, but says she will always cherish the small moments. “Walking through the McKay hallway and saying, “Hi,” to everyone I pass by is a favorite memory for sure,” explained Tania. “When else can you pass down a hallway feeling like a celebrity?”

Volunteering at school events, interacting with professors, friends who become your family, cooking in the hales and walking home from the temple with wet hair were all the small things she said made time here a meaningful experience. Imanuelia said they love going to the beach, taking selfies and creating memories. “Crystal can vibe with anyone,” Imanuelia said.

The first time Tania applied to BYUH she was rejected, she said. She was told they had reached their quota for IWORK students that semester, but she had good credentials and was encouraged to apply again. “It still stung,” she explained. Her high school friends were accepted to universities and had plans while she took an unexpected gap year. 

“Looking back, I don’t regret that year. It was what I needed,” said Tania. She got a job doing administrative work for expatriates which opened her up to communicating with diverse people from other places.

Crystal Tania standing outside wearing graduation gown.
Photo by Crystal Tania


The first class she took in her major was Intercultural Communications. She said it helped her with the culture shock she felt when she came to BYUH. “I learned that people do things they grew up perceiving as normal,” she said, “and so do I.” For example, eating a bag of chips with a pair of chopsticks might seem weird to some, she added with a laugh, but to her it was a good way to keep her fingers clean.

She said a reading in the class about a society called Acirema was very impactful to her. People in this society put pig hair on the end of a stick to put in their mouths, she explained. They also have potions that can change their appearance. “Turns out Acirema is America spelled backwards,” she said. The pig hair on a stick was a toothbrush, she explained, and the potions were things kept in the bathroom like makeup and hair products. “I saw [those things] as weird, not knowing it was me too,” she said, adding that the reading solidified her desire to be a communications major.

Gombos said Crystal is “incredibly welcoming and puts you at ease.” Similarly, to Gombos, Imanuelia said Tania is good at communicating and connecting with people. It is no wonder her major is communications, Imanuelia said with a laugh.

“I cannot speak highly enough of her,” said Gombos. Tania’s willingness to push outside of her comfort zone and be undaunted by challenges stuck with him, he said, while they worked together. He said rarely do interns connect with people beyond their team, but Tania developed relationships with people in other teams and upper management.

Battling Imposter Syndrome

Tania said when she got an email to meet with Academic Vice President Isaiah Walker, she thought she was in trouble. “Turns out it was the opposite,” she said with a laugh, and a few days later received another email telling her she had been chosen to be the student speaker at commencement. 

Public speaking is something she has loved since high school, Tania said. “It would be a humbling opportunity and honor to do that one last time before I leave this sacred place,” she said. As excited as she was to speak, she said it took several days before she got the courage to write the talk. “Imposter syndrome is one of my biggest enemies,” she said, “but in the last few years, I’ve learned how to combat it.”

“Imposter syndrome is the evil whisper in your head saying you are not enough,” explained Tania. In the days after being chosen, she said she wondered if she was really qualified to be the student speaker. She saw friends posting graduation photos and inspiring stories, she said. Compared to them, she said she wondered if she was the right person for the job. 

Many of Tania’s skills are very hard to teach people, said Gombos. Her ability to be curious and ask questions comes naturally to her, he explained. He would tell the doubts in her head that she already has the abilities she needs within herself. The nagging feelings of self-doubt are not gone, Tania said, but she has been better about facing them. “I know I’ve worked hard to be in this position, so let’s not look sideways,” she said. 

Tania titled her speech “Navigating Life’s Plot Twists” and shared one paragraph that was her favorite part. It read, “We are all the main characters of our stories. Heavenly Father is the director and producer. Our struggles, as I like to call them plot twists, are necessary for character development because the main characters are never boring. Luckily, we have professors and mentors who care about us, acting as the guides in our storylines. Just as movies leave us eagerly anticipating sequels, our lives hold the promise of exciting adventures beyond.”