“Mile-High Perspective,” New Era, June 2009, 28–32
In the Denver, Colorado, area you’ll never be completely disoriented, even if you’re in an unfamiliar place. All you have to do to get your bearings is look up to find the Rocky Mountains, which cut their rugged outline along the western horizon.
Similarly, Latter-day Saint youth living around Denver know how to find their spiritual bearings in a world of uncertainty and shifting values. By looking to the Lord and standing up for their values, they stand apart among their peers.
Latter-day Saint teens seem to agree that one of the things that distinguishes them more than just about anything is using good language. Brett Hellbusch, 18, of the Denver Colorado North Stake, says, “Language at school is so atrocious. The way we talk is drastically different.”
Ian Griffey, 17, of the Arvada Colorado Stake agrees. “You can totally tell when someone is LDS. They don’t swear.”
Sometimes there is pressure. “Kids try to get me to cuss because they think it’s funny,” says Ethan Forbes, 15, of the Arvada Colorado Stake. “But actually they think it’s cool that we don’t cuss.”
Beyond avoiding profanity and vulgarity, LDS teens’ language is also different in other ways. As Amanda King, 16, of the Arvada Colorado Stake says, “We don’t degrade people.”
Kathryn Jones, 18, of the Arvada Colorado Stake says that an LDS teen stands out “by the way you treat another person with tolerance and patience. You don’t feel like you need to put somebody down, because you know who you are and who other people are—you’re a child of God.”
It can be challenging when your standards are not valued or understood. “I struggle too,” says Kathryn. “Who doesn’t? For instance, the no-steady-dating rule. It’s hard. People don’t get it. People make fun of you sometimes. And sometimes they say things that are supposed to shake your faith, but you have to stay strong even though you struggle.”
For example, when Kathryn’s basketball team competes in a tournament camp that lasts through Sunday, her parents pick her up on Saturday night. “You have to deal with your teammates’ rolling their eyes and stuff when you explain our beliefs,” she says.
Dress standards also distinguish these teens. “We wear modest clothing,” says Amanda. “No tank tops; no low-cut blouses. Boys wear clothes that are not too baggy. Especially prom—members of the Church wear appropriate dresses, so you can definitely tell them apart.”
Like most LDS teens, these teens often get asked why they live by such strict standards. Kathryn responds, “When you know the truth, you want to live it and share it. Why deviate from it when you know it’s what you should be doing?”
A sense of being on the Lord’s side strengthens these teens’ resolve to maintain their standards despite being different. As Ethan says, “It’s a great feeling to know you’re one of the few.”
Ian offers this perspective: “It’s OK to be different from everyone else—if you are following Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Though they often receive attention because of what they don’t do, these teens also get noticed for what they do, especially when it comes to developing and sharing their talents.
Music is something many of them seem to have in common. “Most LDS kids are involved in music—drama, band, choir, orchestra,” says Amanda, who plays violin in her school orchestra and sings in the school choir.
Kathryn, who also plays violin, agrees. “Music is big,” she says. “It’s seldom that you find an LDS kid who isn’t in band, orchestra, or choir.” In fact, although only a few students at her school are LDS, so many of them participate in music that the hallway where the band, orchestra, and choir rooms are located is sometimes called “the Mormon hall.”
Brett has played trumpet in the school band and sung in the school choir. He first grew to enjoy singing by participating in ward and stake youth choirs.
The Church also played a role for Brandi Hadfield, 17, of the Denver Colorado North Stake, in getting started in the theater. When she was younger, she participated in a ward road show. “I felt silly at rehearsals,” she says. “It was a silly part. But when the lights went up, my heart beat, and I did awesome. I loved that feeling, so I decided to try out for more.”
Since then she has performed in several school and community productions. And, she explains, she had a secret weapon that once helped her land a leading role in a musical—Primary. “They auditioned four different girls and looked for who was the most confident singing. I was picked for the lead, I think, because I had been singing for years in Primary.”
For these youth, sharing talents is a way of reaching people at a spiritual level. As Brett says, “Music’s a really good way to get spiritual things across.”
Another thing that makes these teens stick out is how they stick together—particularly before school.
“I’m surrounded by Mormons before school,” says Amanda. And Brandi describes a similar phenomenon at her school: “People tell me, ‘I see you in your Mormon circle every morning.’”
This “Mormon circle” is formed, quite simply, because of early-morning seminary. The teens meet to study the scriptures and then go to school and talk together for a while, usually before most others have arrived. People notice them there and sometimes ask questions. “The most common question is ‘How could you get up earlier?’” says Brett.
Their demeanor also makes them stand out. Brandi says, “The Mormons are the happy ones in the morning because we’ve already been up for a couple of hours.”
It’s not always easy, though. “Getting up for seminary is hard,” says Ian. “It’s a good way to start your day, but with the stress of school, it’s hard to get up.” But he sees mostly the benefits. “When you go, the day isn’t as stressful,” he says.
For Brandi, it builds a foundation. “Because of seminary, if I’m having trouble with anything, I know what to look for in the scriptures; when I give a spiritual thought, I’m able to go deeper and not just say, ‘I like this scripture.’ When I study at night, I understand it a lot better.”
Teens in the Denver area choose to live by Church standards because of the perspective they gain through the restored gospel. This perspective allows them to get their spiritual bearings in a confusing world so that they can clearly see who they are and where they’re going. And by standing tall, they really stand out.