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Honors Student Macy West Named 2024 Commencement Speaker

By Christie Allen/Julie Radle. Photo by Nate Edwards

At BYU’s commencement exercises this week, University Honors student Macy West will represent the graduates as the student speaker. Like her fellow graduates, West has achieved much during her time at BYU.

Majoring in philosophy with a minor in theoretical and applied ethics, West published in several undergraduate and academic journals while a BYU student, winning awards in multiple philosophy essay competitions. She served as the president of the philosophy club and co-producer and co-host of the “Y Philosophy” podcast. She also interned with the legal departments of two companies. After graduation, she will attend the University of Chicago Law School on a full scholarship.

University Communications’ Christie Allen recently met with West to discuss West’s experiences at BYU. Macy also shared additional thoughts with Honors Program Assistant Director, Julie Radle:

Julie Radle: What was your most memorable Honors experience?

Macy West: One of my most memorable Honors experiences was while I was taking HONRS 223, “Transcendent Skies: Literature and Astronomy” with Aaron Eastley and Denise Stephens. We spent time learning the constellations and their cultural and literary significance. At the end of the semester, we travelled to Capital Reef as a class, and I remember lying on my back stargazing, able to identify the stars and constellations, and realizing just how much I had learned about them throughout the semester. It was a transformative moment for me.”

I also loved the 290R course “Flourishing,” a social and mental wellness course taught by Carl Hansen and Brian Hill. I still use the meditation exercises I learned in that course.

Christie Allen: Your Honors thesis is titled “On Sensible Limits of Love.” What inspired you to write about love from a philosophical perspective?

MW: I’ve always been drawn to philosophy that feels very close to day-to-day life. After I learned about the philosophy of love in a class, I became curious about fringe cases of love rather than the paradigm cases most represented in the literature. My thesis explores the theoretical and practical implications of abuse and serious moral failure in loving relationships. In it, I aim to provide an account of love that can explain why love is compromised by abuse and other severe moral flaws and also why we have a responsibility to disengage from certain relationships.

JR:  How has researching and writing an Honors thesis added to your experience?

MW: Writing my thesis was the highlight of my Honors experience. While I was able to publish other articles as an undergraduate, I would never have had a chance to research and write a paper of this depth as an undergraduate otherwise. My thesis topic caught the eye of graduate school admissions committees and several asked me about it in interviews. I was able to discuss the topic and demonstrate the depth of the research I had completed. I believe it made a difference in those interviews.

CA: What’s been your favorite part of your BYU experience?

MW: One of my favorite aspects is the high expectation BYU has for professors to mentor students, which I’ve experienced firsthand through the wonderful philosophy department and Honors Program faculty. This mentorship, combined with rigorous classes, results in a remarkably high-quality education. I presented at a conference at Johns Hopkins this past year, and all of the other student presenters were from Ivy Leagues and other prestigious schools. I thought, “Oh man, I don’t know if I'm on par with these people.” My essay ended up winning best essay out of that group. And I remember thinking, “My BYU education, what the philosophy department has given me, is completely on par with anyone else’s education.”

CA: How has the spiritual mission of BYU shaped your education?

MW: We take classes — I’ve had this experience in my religion, philosophy and Honors program classes — where we’re invited to ask thoughtful questions and ponder the nuances of the gospel. I’ve loved having a shared intellectual community where we are all working toward the same thing: eventual perfection and eternal life.

CA: While a student, you volunteered with Y-Serve’s Creative Connections program. What motivated you to make service a part of your BYU education?

MW: I wanted to find ways to be involved in the community while I was here in Provo. Creative Connections is a therapeutic art program for high-risk youth, where they learn important behavioral skills while doing art projects. The emphasis that BYU places on community service helped me realize that whatever I end up doing within the law, I want public-oriented service to be part of it.

CA: You also interned with the legal department of global alternative investment company Ares Management in New York City, spearheading a project to help the company hire more outside counsel from minority- and women-owned businesses. Can you tell me more about that experience?

MW: The internship was really helpful for understanding what responsibilities are involved in the day-to-day life of a corporate attorney. For one of my projects, I researched certified MWBE (minority and women-owned business enterprise) law firms in New York and presented my findings to a partner at the company. Towards the end of my internship, they told me that they were taking the next steps on hiring one of those companies. One of the things I've tried to prioritize during my legal internships is creating work products that will continue to benefit the company after I’m gone. Obviously, they’re doing me a favor by giving me the experience, and I don’t want the relationship to be entirely one-sided.

CA: As you prepare to graduate this week, what advice do you have for incoming BYU freshmen?

MW: I would say, get involved! Spend time on campus making connections, talk to your professors and classmates and go to office hours. My BYU experience would’ve been unrecognizable without the people I met that made it so special. I’d also say, don’t limit your opportunities by thinking you can’t achieve something. My first publication was from a contest I entered almost as a joke, thinking I’d never hear back — it ended up getting published, and that put me in the position to have future work published. You’re sometimes not the best judge of the merit of your work, so let someone else decide, and don’t be the limiter of your own capabilities.

 JR: What advice do you have for your fellow Honors students specifically?

 MW: When I started at BYU and in the Honors Program, I had some aversion to subjects I didn’t feel particularly strong in. Despite that, I ended up taking Unexpected Connections courses that seemed outside my comfort zones of writing and philosophy, and discovered I could engage and succeed in other disciplines too. So, my advice? Don’t be put off by exploring topics or subjects outside of your own niche or comfort zone. Embrace learning in other areas. Ultimately, Honors made learning about other disciplines doable. Being able to make connections with other fields and pull in others’ ideas is a lifelong skill that benefits us no matter our own field of expertise.

See University Communications Q&A here.