September 1986

“Kelly,” New Era, Sept. 1986, 14

Participatory Journalism:

As I headed back to Provo that Sunday night, I thought about Kelly, the young man that Elder Neal A. Maxwell had talked about that morning in stake conference. I had gone home from BYU for the weekend to attend the conference with my family. I needed a spiritual boost, and the conference was no disappointment. Elder Maxwell had talked about facing and overcoming challenges, and he had told us about a young man named Kelly.

Kelly had fought through many physical difficulties. He had been born without a jaw, chin or ear on the left side, and was operated on 11 times before graduating from high school. A jaw bone was made with bone from his hip, and an ear was also made for him.

For Kelly to serve a mission he had to have special permission to wear his hair over his ears. They were uneven because of the effect of gravity on his left ear, so they needed to be covered. He received permission to wear his hair longer, and he served a mission. He was now attending BYU. I hoped that I would get the chance to meet him. I was so impressed by his story that I wondered over and over if I had passed him on campus.

For weeks I thought about him and hoped I would meet him, but with 26,000 students and the semester nearing the end, it didn’t seem likely. I had mostly forgotten about it until one afternoon in my history class.

I was late that day. I hated being late, especially for my history class. Uncle Joe, as everyone called the professor, was the kind of teacher who could make just about anything interesting.

Every person in the class had to do an oral report on one of the presidents of the United States. Each class period we discussed the life of one of the presidents, and the student who had chosen to study that president started off the class discussion with his report.

As I slipped into the classroom and into a chair, I noticed who was up at the front of the class. It was that boy with the long hair. He had already given his oral report, so I couldn’t imagine what he was doing up in front of the class again. He didn’t look like the type that would have done another report for extra credit. “It doesn’t even matter that I’m late,” I thought as I arranged my books, “if it’s just him up there talking.”

I got settled and sat back to listen. “Why does he wear his hair so long?” I self-righteously wondered. “Doesn’t he know about the dress and grooming standards here?”

He was telling us his own story. “I was born without a jaw and had to have extensive surgery to have one made from bone from my hip. I had 11 major operations before …”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. An uncomfortable feeling was growing inside of me. It couldn’t be him!

I listened to much of the story that I had heard Elder Maxwell tell in stake conference. He spoke of gratitude and appreciation for health and the sweet, simple things of life. When he finished and sat down, Uncle Joe stood up and said, “Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your story with us.”

I don’t remember anything else we talked about that day. I sat there thinking about how much I had wanted to meet Kelly, and all semester long he’d been in my class. But from the first moment I saw him, I had counted him out as anyone I’d like to get to know because he looked a little bit different.

As I nervously waited after class to finally get to meet Kelly, the words came into my mind: “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). I realized I had almost missed meeting Kelly because I was looking in the wrong places.

Photography by Grant Heaton

Maze art by Brent Christison