This BYU Law Camp challenges young thinkers to learn about real issues up close (but don’t worry, there’s still silliness)

PROVO, UTAH — The first days of August can double as an unwelcome reminder for high school students: Summer’s ending and a new school year is fast approaching.

So to squeeze the last drops from their final homework-free days, many are enjoying family road trips, catching up on summer flicks, earning a few part-time job dollars — and maybe sleeping until noon.

But more than 80 teenagers recently opted to welcome in August by attending BYU Law Camp — an intensive, week-long program that challenges young people to discover the vast aspects of the law while becoming advocates for positive change in their own communities.

Los Angeles resident Kaleah Sykes, 17, is a three-year veteran of BYU Law Camp. After recently graduating from high school, she plans on pursuing a law enforcement career. And she’s considering law school “because that can open up so many doors.”

But Kaleah makes her way back to the Church-owned campus each summer for Law Camp “because it’s fun — and you get to talk to a lot of different types of people.”

Diversity was one of the highlights of this year’s iteration of BYU Law Camp, said Amberly Page, an admissions specialist and BYU Law School graduate who helps direct the annual youth program.

A trio of participants of the 2019 BYU Law Camp enjoy free time together outside BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School.
A trio of participants of the 2019 BYU Law Camp enjoy free time together outside BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. Credit: BYU LAW SCHOOL

Many participants are Latter-day Saints, but many are not. “And we have campers coming from all across the United States, including Hawaii,” she said. “About two-thirds of them are from outside of Utah.”

A welcome byproduct of those differences in backgrounds is a range of opinions on a variety of topics.

“The campers are all very bright and informed, and they want to know about the issues of the day. They bring to camp many different opinions. And hopefully, those opinions are tested,” said Page.

A camper’s stamina will also be tested.

BYU Law Camp is a busy week. The schedule includes a field trip to the federal courthouse to observe actual court proceedings, a moot court and legislature session and several discussions with sitting judges, law professors and other legal professionals.

But this is still summer camp — so there’s also time for recreation and a bit of silliness. This year’s campers teamed up to make it out of an escape room, shared their talents at a camp variety show and got to know each other better at a camp-ending dance.

BYU Law Camp is busy with workshops, small group discussions and mock court activities -- but campers still find time to play some volleyball and have fun.
BYU Law Camp is busy with workshops, small group discussions and mock court activities — but campers still find time to play some volleyball and have fun. Credit: BYU LAW SCHOOL

Hosted by the J. Reuben Clark Law School, the camp also offers several BYU law students opportunities to mentor campers as they, say, write legal briefs or introduce and adopt bills during the camp legislative session.

Second-year BYU law student and camp mentor Eliza Crespo said she tried to help campers discover leadership skills by utilizing their own unique personality and skills.

Meanwhile, listening and counseling with the teenagers helped Crespo hone her own interpersonal skills that will serve her well as an attorney.

The Kansas City native added she was impressed by the civility that the young campers brought to emotional discussions about issues such as immigration.

“We can expect a lot from these youth,” said Crespo.

Page believes the goals of Law Camp embody the motto of BYU: Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.

“We want to help students find ways that they can make a positive difference. We want them to feel like they can talk about issues that matter to them — and then learn how they can become advocates for that issue,” she said.

Sarah Stevenson, a 17-year-old camper from Minnesota, attended Law Camp for the first time this year to learn more about the legal world.

Participants of the 2019 BYU Law Camp take part in a group discussion. The annual camp offers young people opportunities to discuss and better understand the legal issues of the day.
Participants of the 2019 BYU Law Camp take part in a group discussion. The annual camp offers young people opportunities to discuss and better understand the legal issues of the day.

“Law is something that I’m interested in, and I’ve learned the field of law is very broad,” she said.

As a Latter-day Saint, Sarah said she also came to appreciate how laws that uphold and defend human rights can align with gospel principles.

Fourteen-year-old Matthew Risher of Las Vegas said he was often challenged to step outside his comfort zone during Law Camp. He doesn’t particularly enjoy writing — but with the help of a mentor, he was able to craft a legal brief.

“And eventually, everything came together,” he said with a smile.

Seth Barzeron of Compton, California, said his week at BYU Law Camp “opened my eyes to all the opportunities in law.” He’s even considering becoming a lawyer.

For Seth, a highlight of camp was speaking with fellow campers who initially seemed to hold opposing views on key issues. But after sharing and listening, “we found out we basically felt the same way.”