Friday, April 24, 2015

Graduation Speech


So, I graduated today. There is so much I could write about it, but the scariest part, but also the most rewarding was being able to speak at convocation for the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. I worked hard at it, and I feel that it expresses my feelings for today very well. So here it is. Enjoy.

- Jessica

I’m a math major, so I have to ask, what does a BYU undergrad’s experience equal? For me, its 56 classes, 47 professors, 15 roommates, 10 semesters, 9 binge-watched TV shows,  4 apartments,  3 on-campus jobs, 2 major changes, and 2 grad school acceptances, all for 1 piece of paper with my name on it. This seems like a lot, so why am I excited and yet sad at the same time? Why do I jump at the chance to go somewhere new and make my own path, yet tremble at the idea of leaving my home for the past four years?
 Part of it is the feeling of accomplishment – we’ve made it! We are done and the things we have accomplished are great. Think of that test you studied all week for and somehow managed to pass. Think of the project that you were working on all semester, and it still became a mad rush to finish in the last two weeks. Think of the early morning class you could never quite make it on time to, and the afternoon class you always seemed to sleep through. Think of the class you never thought you would pass, and think of the late hours in the library or dark corners of the Talmage, Eyring, or the Benson building working towards that passing grade. All those tasks are finished and through them we have gathered a large base of knowledge and skills to bring into the next stage of our lives.
But it wasn’t just the classes that made our time at BYU great. Think of the friends you’ve made, both in class and out, that helped you with those tests and projects, or even just helped you let off some steam when the class load got too hard. Think of the professors that consistently spent office hours or even extra hours helping you understand the material or giving you advice about classes, internships, or graduate schools. Think of the roommates that might have driven you crazy with a sink consistently full of dishes, but that were also there when life got too hard. They were there for the late movie nights, the rejections, the hopes and dreams. As much as what we have accomplished these past years is something to be proud of, the people we have met, grown to love, and who have changed us are worth treasuring, thanking, and always remembering.
I’d like to share one of the best things I learned here at BYU, and it wasn’t from a certain class or one huge revelation. It was a slow change that has happened over the past four years  thanks to friends, family, and the professors I’ve met here at BYU.
Four years ago, little freshman Jessica sat down in her first college class. It was a scary 300 level religion class that she desperately wanted to take, but was terrified to because she was a little freshman. As the teacher got farther into the syllabus her heart sank. The assignments seemed too much, the writing too intense, and all the other students seem much older and sure of themselves. There was no way she could get a good grade! As soon as the class ended, Jessica raced to the library, found a computer, dropped the class, and added a Book of Mormon class instead.
Two years later, I was once again in a class where the teacher spent the whole first day going on and on about how it was going to be the hardest thing I would do in college. I was faced with a programming language I didn’t know and fellow students who not only seemed much older but were almost all male. Once again, my stomach started twisting and I started wondering if there would be anyone who wanted to work with me, if I would be able to learn python while keeping up with the assignments, and if I could handle the math proofs and computational homework. All this while that little nagging voice kept answering “you can’t do it, you CAN’T do it.”
This time, however, I stayed in the class which was my first in the Applied and Computational Math Emphasis. The next two years, as I went through the program, were the hardest things I’ve done in college. I found myself staying on campus later and later and spending more and more time in the computer lab staring at bits of code, hoping they’d fix themselves. I wrote proof after proof, until the details all started to blur in my mind and I couldn’t tell convex from concave. I filled whiteboards and whiteboards with formulas studying for tests. But with the help of friends and professors, I made it. And not only did I survive, but I excelled. I’d had enough confidence to stay in the class after that first day and when I saw that my hard work brought success that confidence grew until I’ve been able to present about my own research at conferences and apply to graduate schools I never would have dreamed of. This confidence has enabled me to explore areas to find what I’m passionate about and to create friendships better than I’ve ever had. I’ve learned that if I’m willing to do the work, I can accomplish absolutely anything.
And this knowledge is what I want to share with you today. Take the passions and interests you’ve found during your time here at BYU and pursue them! You have the skills and knowledge you need, and if you don’t you can gain them - the resources are there if you are willing to put in the work.  As much as I enjoyed the Book of Mormon class I took, I never did find time to take that religion class I ran away from four years ago and I plan on never repeating that mistake again. This fall I am heading to Duke University to start my PhD in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and I plan on taking full advantage of the resources there in order to accomplish the most I can and best learn how to do my own original research. All of us have a bright future ahead because of the wonderful environment BYU has provided. As we face both the joy and sorrow that today brings, remember, success is ahead if you just have the confidence to work for your dreams.
Thank you, and congratulations.

Sunday, February 1, 2015



I spent last weekend in Nebraska. Why Nebraska you ask? I was there for the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics (NCUWM) and it was fabulous!

There were plenary talks  by female professors and panels about careers in math and graduate school. There were breakout sessions about graduate school, research, math clubs, being confident, and many other things. There were undergraduate talks and posters about their research experiences and  I gave a talk about my research as did a couple of my friends.

I met women doing research in anything from graph theory to applied math, and I got to meet other undergraduates who have the same troubles about not knowing what research or careers they want to do.

I met women who had no female faculty when they went to school. I met women who were the first to be pregnant at their graduate school. I met professors doing research in mathematical biology just like I want to do. I met women from the graduate schools I am applying to. I met women excelling in life in all the ways I want to, and I met women who told me I could, too.

I know that women are just as good at math as men, but I don't think I believed that my career options were as broad or as bright as men's until now. Why? I simply hadn't seen it. There's only a couple of female math professors in my department, and I really haven't had much interaction with them. But meeting women who have built careers in math, who have balanced family and work, and who absolutely love their work and are so excited to help me build my career has been amazing. Now I have no doubt that I can accomplish whatever program or research that I set my mind to.

The conference wasn't about moaning about how men dominate everything or complaining that we aren't given the same opportunities. That didn't happen at all. It was about bringing women together and giving us the courage and confidence to pursue the careers we want.

The quote to best sum it up is this: "Men can be great mentors, but there is something powerful about seeing someone do what you want to do who looks like you." I might not have remembered it right, but Dr. Maria Klawe, the one who said it, is my new hero along with many of the other women I met this weekend. For the first time I feel like I have role models who share my dreams and face my same challenges. And for the first time I really feel like I can succeed in graduate school and beyond

 - Jessica

Monday, January 5, 2015

Jan 5, 2014: A Week of Joy

Hey everyone. Thanks for still being alive.

I've felt so many different versions of joy this week, that I don't even know where to start.

New Years Eve:

Joy is looking up from personal study and seeing snow. Yes. Snow. In Las Vegas. It lasted a total of five minutes. But I touched snow! Needless to say, I had a very hard time focusing for the rest of studies because I was hoping that it would snow again.

Saturday night:

We are teaching a family of three. M, T (14), and A (7). Their dad was a member and he died about a year ago. We don't know how active the dad was or anything. We got them as a referral from a bishop. M went to the bishop and got food and he gave her a BOM and referred her to us. A is very anti-us. Really he just wants the attention. He complains and says that our games are stupid and that we won't read, but he really likes us. We can tell. T is along those same lines. Always busy, always wants to leave, and never says he'll read or pray. But on Saturday, HE TOLD US HE READ. THREE CHAPTERS OF THE BOM. We did not see that coming. That was joy.


You guys are alive. That's joy.

What else happened this week? A lot. We'll start with the car. But that takes some backtracking.

So wayyyyyy back in November, we had to get a smog check for our car. When we did that the guy told us that our fan was really loud and going on for a really long time and that we should get that checked. We called Elder B (who's in charge of car-ness) and he told us to just get our smog checked. So we just got our smog checked. Then a notification came up that the AC was turned off due to engine temperatures (the AC wasn't on). We were like, well, they are going to check the car soon so we don't need to worry about it. But we worried. We called Elder B a little while later and he freaked out and told us to put water in the radiator. He told us not to drive it and put water in it. We were like, how are we getting home . . .? So we found some nice guys to put water in it. They might have been a bit drunk. We're not sure. (Oh ya, this was back with Hermana S by the way.) Anyway, Elder B told us to take the car in. Down in Henderson. So we drove alllll the way down to Henderson, sat in the dealership for like four hours, for them to tell us they could not find a leak. Elder B told us to keep an eye on the car. So, fast forward to this week. We had to fill the radiator again. So, Elder B told us to take the car in again (this time close by, thank goodness!). They told us that the water pump is leaking and something else needed to be fixed that was making a mysterious clicking noise. They shuttled us home and we called them later and they told us, that IF they have the parts, we can get it back Tuesday. This was Friday. A.K.A we were going to be without a car until Tuesday. At the earliest. So guess what we did. We biked! But when our district leader saw us biking down the road, and the members found out that we were biking, they decided that that was an abomination. They took it as a personal offence. So Saturday, we borrowed the district leader's car when he had members who were driving him around, and we got a lot of rides from members. Yesterday all of our appointments were close enough to walk, so we walked around. Except for when we needed to go to the projects, then we got a ride. Today the sister training leaders are driving us around so we can go shopping and email and stuff. We haven't quite figured out what is happening tonight. The problem is that if we bike for part of the day, we either have to go ALL the way back to our apartment to drop off the bikes or leave them somewhere when a member gives us a ride. So it's really not effective to do that. So we have to figure out the perfect balance of walking, biking, and rides. It's quite complicated.

For New Years Eve we had to be in our apartments by 6 o'clock. I had plans to be super productive and organize and all this stuff, but, I was super tired. So I watched like an hour of Bible Videos and then went to bed. I took like two mini naps in there too.

I think New Years Day is my new favorite holiday. People were home because it's a holiday, but they weren't busy because they did all their celebrating the night before. It was great!

Well. I think that's all I got for right now. Please don't die in the next week. That would be greatly appreciated.

Hermana Leete

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Scary Experience


To stop the suspense, I'll tell you what happened right away. Friday afternoon, Kevin, Rebecca, and I left to go back to school. We were planning on stopping at Aunt Lynn's in Boise that night, but we didn't make it since we kinda wrecked our car. Don't worry, everyone is absolutely fine. Here's what happened.

The roads were perfectly clear the whole way, even as we got up into the blue mountains. We started going downhill a bit and as we turned a right corner, there was a large patch of ice. We started fishtailing, but with the downhill Kevin couldn't slow down and get it under control fast enough and it just got worse. The back left  of the car hit the cement median, sending the back sliding harder to the right. The back of the car slid in front of us, turning us around. The cement median had stopped, but we hit the snow bank on the median with the passenger side of the car. We then rolled over into the snow and slid backwards and upside down for about 20-30 feet. No one was hurt, but we were a bit shaken up and trapped in the car since the snow was so deep. Kevin couldn't find his phone, but I had mine in my pocket so I called 911. Kevin wasn't sure if we were in the median or the other side of the street, so he turned on all the outside lights and started honking the horn, but we were safe in the median. Some nice people had stopped as soon as they saw us crash and helped dig us out. We all got out ok and got safely to the other side of the street. where Rebecca and I sat in the car of one of the people who had stopped to help. They were a nice couple heading back to OSU. He used to be an EMT so he checked us for concussions. Kevin dealt with the police and stuff.

The whole experience was terrifying, but so much went right to keep us safe.  There wasn't any front impact, so the airbags didn't go off (saving our noses) and none of the stuff from the back of the car flew forward and hit us (the car was packed to the roof!). The jam jars in the back didn't even break! There was no shattered glass to deal with. The puppy was fine even though he wasn't secured to anything. Rebecca says she was able to grab him before we rolled.  Nice people got there really quick to help.  Dad had been meaning to change the car insurance to a cheaper plan that wouldn't cover this, but forgot so we are covered. But most importantly, no one was hurt. Well, Kevin stubbed his toe and Rebecca's shoulder is a bit sore, but that is it.God was watching over us, I'm sure He was.

So after the police came and checked everything out and righted the car, we got all our valuables and important things like purses and laptops out and one of the truck drivers gave us a ride to a hotel in Pendleton. We stayed there for the night, although no one got much sleep. We just talked and tried to calm each other down. There were no car rental places open on Saturday, So mom and dad came and gave us a ride (We were only about 3 hours from home). On Saturday we got the rest of the stuff from the car. In the daylight, the car didn't look so bad from some angles. The passenger door didn't close anymore, I'm not sure if that was from the roof being dented or the door misshapen. There was a fist sized dent in the back bumper from where we hit the median, and the roof above the driver's seat had really bent in. And the glass sunroof was gone. It's a good thing the cover was closed to keep the glass out when we were stuck in the car. After we got everything out of the wrecked car, we drove to Boise where Aunt Lynn made some great soup and we all went to bed early. Then on Sunday we drove to Provo. So you're not going to get an email from mom. They're staying at a hotel overnight then driving all the way home tomorrow.

Back tracking to earlier in the week, it was pretty chill. We saw The Hobbit, the Battle of the Five Armies, which was enjoyable - although Dad is very glad it's over. New Year's eve was fun. Linnea joined us and we stayed up playing games and watched the ball drop in Times Square. The next day she came over and we had a knitting party! Later the family saw the Imitation Game. It's about Alan Turing, a mathematician who broke the German enigma machine during the WWII. The enigma machine was how the Germans encoded all their messages, so by breaking the code, historians estimate that the war ended two years earlier and saved millions of lives. Everyone liked it, the movie was beautifully done.

That's about it for the update! I hope everything is going well over there. I'm all settled in and ready for the new semester tomorrow.  This week I learned without a doubt that the Lord is watching over us. If we are follow his commandments and keeping our covenants, He will protect us when needed. He truly loves us and wants the best for us.

I also learned the importance of seat belts. They kept us in our seats while we rolled and then we were hanging by them afterward. Things would have been much worse if we hadn't been wearing seat belts. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS WEAR A SEAT BELT. God is less likely to help out if you're an idiot who doesn't wear a seat belt.

Love you lots.


P.S. Here's a picture Kevin took of our car upside down in the snow. The rut in the snow in front of it is where we slid.

P.P.S On a happier note, I tried taking some selfies with Brahms in the car. Here's two that I got.  He's so cute!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

News from Melissa

Hey all!

Melissa is doing great on her mission. Most of her letters to me are pretty short, but here's some great snippets from them.

To read more of Melissa's letters home, go here!

Querida Jessica,

July 31

I love the feeling you get when you walk into the Celestial room. I love the peace in the temple. I love the Spirit there. I feel the Spirit different in the temple than I do anywhere else. It feels like it's too big for me. Like I'm so full. I think of the Grinch and how his heart grew three sizes, and that's how it feels. It's amazing. I love that you get to serve other people. I love how you can always learn. I love the symbolism and the feeling of truth. I am so glad for temples and really sad that I haven't been in six weeks! I know, I'm doing other important stuff, and I got to go to the visitor's center, but it's not quite the same. I hope I get to go again when I'm in Vegas.

You feel so close to God in the temple. You get to experience, just a bit, what it's like to be in heaven. You feel so much love. It's so amazing!

I like to look back on my life and remember those experiences that strengthened my testimony. I feel extremely blessed because I don't think I leaned on Mom and Dad for too long. I found out for myself. Which is one reason I love this church so much. I could find out for myself! I didn't have to listen to everyone else's testimonies or just read the Bible or something like that. I could ask God for myself and find out that this church is true. I know that it is true. I know because I asked. I know because I have read the scriptures. I know because the Holy Ghost has told me, again and again, that it is true. I can't deny it. I am excited to have the opportunity to tell the people of Las Vegas that we have the truth. Not only that, but that they don't have to believe me. They can find out for themselves! Not by searching the internet, not by asking out people, but by asking the one who knows all things, but asking God. And if they ask God, with a sincere heart, truly wanting to know the truth, they will know. They will know that the Book of Mormon in the word of God, Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is God's true church once again restored to this earth. It's amazing. You can know this, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your being. I know it and I cannot deny it. I would rather deny gravity than to deny this church. I know that this church is true, better than I know that. It is true.

Aug 11

You know I've been thinking about the whole "real world" thing. We watched a devotional in the CCM, I think it was by Elder Holland, and he mentioned how people are always like, "when I get back to real life" and he's like "what's more real than missionary work?" That really stuck with me. What is more real than the gospel? What is more real than studying the gospel and preaching the gospel? That's what I got to do in the CCM, study and practice preaching. What could possibly be more real than that? Whether in the CCM or out of it, this is real stuff. This is the important stuff in life. But ya, I know what  you mean. It's kinda scary to talk to real investigators in Spanish and members who aren't my teachers. Scary. I only understand a tiny portion of what I hear and I usually am to frightened to respond. But, I'm working on it.

Aug 18

The thing I've learned this week is that teaching people the gospel takes time. It's hard for me to not get impatient. I meet a person who is interested, and I want to teach them every day. But they're busy. They don't yet fully realize how important this is, and they have work and other things that they have to schedule around. However, this is my life, all day, everyday, so it's hard because I feel like it's been forever since we've talked, and it's really only been like two days. Also, we talk to people who have talked to missionaries before, and sometimes they don't really remember it. It's like, these people are such a big part of the missionary's life, we keep track of them, we pray for them, all these things, but sometimes, they don't let the gospel into their life, so it doesn't change them. It could help them so much! But they don't let it, and that's sad.

Aug 25

What made me laugh the most . . . I don't know. My companion. Hermana D gets so worked up and excited about things. I feel like I almost am overly not excited just to balance it out. So she makes me laugh.

Sep 1

I had this thought the other day. We all know that the temple is the end goal, it's not baptism. And it just makes sense! Because if not, why are we baptized at 8? You are not accountable until then, so why be baptized the second you can, if you don't really have sin until then? It doesn't make sense. In theory, you would want to be baptized later in life, to get rid of your sins right before you die, right? But, that's not so! Baptism is only the gate to eternal life. The gate to other covenants. And through those other covenants and being obedient and enduring to the end, you become clean, not just once, but over and over and over again. Hence baptism at 8. We need a lot of time to accomplish that. It's amazing how everything fits together. It's not just one event, you need so much in order to live with God again!

(What was the saddest part of your week? The happiest?)

Sad stuff. Investigators standing us up on our appointments and not coming to church and not being able to contact them. I just want to save your soul! BE THERE!!!!! Especially when you have a member there. It's sad.

Happy stuff! AWESOME NEW INVESTIGATORS! I feel like they are golden. Like they're gonna be baptized. I can't wait to teach them.

Sep 15

We're going to start teaching an English class sometime soon. That'll be scary. Apparently I just have to talk to people in English, which sounds pretty easy. But we'll see. Hermana D and I were laughing at how everyone is going to end up having a southern accent because both Hermana D and Elder B have southern accents. All the people I teach will sound normal though!

(Who is the strangest person you've met?)

I talked to someone who was kind of green. That was weird.

Sep 29

You should send me food. If that's possible. I like food. But not as much as Hispanics. SO MUCH FOOD. The plate is like full, with the food just heaped up on it. And you have to eat it all so you don't offend anyone. I have no idea how to serve myself anymore. There is no way I am not going to gain weight. AAAAHHHHHHH. At least the food tastes good. But you get to a point where everything tastes bad once you've eaten too much.

I love the temple!!!!! I wish I could go all the time! But I gotta focus on the living right now, so later in my life I'll worry about the dead.

This week was pretty unexciting so I don't really have anything to say. 'Cept Jesus the Christ is boss. Is that disrespectful? I really love reading it. I am so close to finishing it. I just get sucked in and I don't want to stop. I highly recommend it for a little light reading. (Ha! Everyone knows that is not light reading.)

Nov 3

I love your costume and your decorations. They are fantastic. We actually had a mission party. We went to the mission office, ate food, watched skits about the worst first member present lesson, and watched 17 miracles. It was pretty fun. So no, I didn't really see any costumes. But I switched name tags with Hermana S for the party. People kept on giving us funny looks.

Mish is pretty good. Nothing terrible has happened yet. You know, nothing worse than the usual, people calling us fools, trying to tell us that we are solicitors, being rude. But I'm used to that now. It has given me a better perspective on people of other faiths. Like, how hypocritical I am. For example, people will tell us that we are wrong, and I'll think, but you know nothing about our religion. But, that's what I think about other people. So, I'm trying to fix that. I would love to learn about other religions, I just don't really have a means to at the moment. I think it's super interesting. Basically, I'm starting to see more and more what it's like to be on the other side of the missionary-normal person conversation. The more I talk to people as a missionary, the more I see what it's like from their point of view. Then, I try to stop being so stupid and judgmental. It's a process though.

Nov 10

There are rabbits everywhere here. I think of you when I see them. I really want to pick them up, but I'm pretty sure that's a really ​really bad idea. Even if I could catch them.

Love you!

Hermana Leete

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Worth of Souls: July 17, 2014


Exact obedience is hard. Really hard. I'm trying so hard but I fail all the time. But, I'm trying. I want to be obedient. Not just conveniently obedient, but exactly obedient. It is the only way I can be more Christlike, and that exactly what I want to be. 

I love what you said about that. I can't believe people think that this church is sexist. In no way do I feel like I am prevented from receiving blessings because I am a girl. It's ridiculous! The Elders are so nice, they always let you go first in line. Some people would think that is sexist in itself, but I think it shows respect. It is telling us that they respect us enough to put aside their own feelings of hunger so that we can satisfy our hunger. It's charity, it's love, it's respect. I have the opportunity here to have the priesthood authority to preach the gospel. It's amazing! I may not hold the priesthood, but I can still serve. I couldn't give my companion a blessing when she was sick, but they could. She, and I, could still be blessed by the priesthood without holding it. I don't think I can express my feelings well enough. Here, we work together. I, as a Sister Training Leader, work with the District and Zone Leaders to make sure the needs of the hermanas are met. We work together. That is how it is supposed to be. I don't need to do what they do to have worth. I don't need to be a man to have worth. That idea is ridiculous. We're not the same, and there is a reason for that. We can't have 7 billion architects in the world, it just doesn't make sense! I hope that people some day will be able to understand that. I know I have worth, I know you have worth. I don't think I am worth more than any man, nor is any man worth more than me. We are all children of God. We all have separate roles. These roles even change from sister to sister and brother to brother. It's ridiculous to  think one person is worth more than another, simple because of gender.

This is something that has slowly been working it's way into my heart over the past years. Everyone, and I mean EVERYone is worth more than anything in this world in the sight of God. It is only us who don't see it that way. It is us to say, "oh he's righteous he's worth more" or "she's so pretty so she's better". That's a lie. Let me say that again. THAT IS A LIE. Satan wants us to think that way. Satan wants us to judge and demean other people, other children of God. But we can't let him. We need to let everyone know that they have worth. We need to tell everyone their true identity. We are children of God! What greater knowledge can we have than that. He loves us, he has a plan for us so that we can live with him, and our families for eternity! What a blessing it is to learn more about this and to have the opportunity to share it with the world. To share it to people in their own tongue. What other church sends a bunch of 18 and 19 year-olds to learn a foreign language so that they can teach people the truth, in their own tongue. It's amazing. 

I hope school is going well for you. I hope you know that you are loved and that you have great worth, to God, to this world, and to those around you. You can do great things with your life.

I love you,

Hermana Leete