Every morning at 5:45 a.m., bleary-eyed but awake nevertheless, Ashton Omdahl rolled out of bed to exercise with the BYU Triathlon club. He didn’t love the early mornings, but he appreciates the discipline they gave him. For Ashton, triathlon, like so many other things at BYU, was merely a balancing act.

Ashton served in the Canada Edmonton Mission before heading to BYU, where he began his major in bioinformatics and minors in mathematics and computer science. He participated in the Honors Program and the BYU Triathlon Club, played the violin in the BYU University Orchestra and BYU String Orchestra, and served as president for the Bioinformatics Research Group. In 2016, Ashton interned with the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. On campus, he was a mentored research assistant in Dr. Stephen Piccolo’s Bioinformatics Lab where he designed, constructed, and implemented a computer tool to standardize breast cancer treatment datasets using a standard vocabulary from the National Cancer Institute. His passion is research, but he has more than his fair share of hobbies.

With so much on his plate, Ashton found himself struggling to balance everything. He said, “For a while at BYU I missed out on social opportunities in exchange for my goals in music, academics, and triathlon. Over time, I learned how to find balance in developing cherished relationships with friends while still pursuing my other goals. Ultimately, for me, it boiled down to what I was most committed to, and that's what happened.”

For Ashton, the BYU experience was intensely academic, and peppered with what he calls “paradigm-shifting moments” that changed his learning experience at BYU. For him, the Honors Program facilitated such changes. Hl said, “I found a community of people who loved to learn and think deeply and to speak about it articulately and made good friends there. I took classes that changed my perspective on the world and myself and motivated me to live gratefully. I also learned to be confident in myself as a student and a writer. Further, the program provided motivation and a framework for producing worthwhile independent research. So, all together, the Honors experience helped me grow in my intellectual skills, my interpersonal skills, my leadership ability and my desire to serve.” Concluding his long list of achievements at BYU was Ashton’s graduation with University Honors and speaking at Commencement. Despite his laundry list of academic accomplishments, he cites Honors as the “structured environment” that helped him get familiar with the academic publishing process and show him the power of interdisciplinarity.

“All disciplines add value and are important because they help you see things differently and in a new way,” Ashton said.

In his commencement speech, Ashton shared three truths he gleaned from his time at BYU:

  • Fearlessly facing truth about ourselves has the potential to transform our hearts, from sinner to saint.
  • Facing the truth, even if very difficult, can expand our secular knowledge.
  • Fully facing the inconvenient truth can change how we treat others and treat life in the most essential ways.

These truths, just a few of the undoubtedly many he gathered during his short time at BYU, pave the way for his future. Up next for Ashton is a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins. He hopes his PhD research will drive medical innovations in precision medicine that he could scale-up and help people around the world. When asked why he loved his field, he answered, “Because it’s hard. May seem odd to say, but I love the mental challenge it provides and the potential for solving real-world problems.” Ashton says he’s excited to “go forth and serve” with the knowledge and perspective he gained at BYU. Thinking of the future, he says, “I commit to look forward, facing life’s truths with renewed resolve.”

WATCH Ashton’s full commencement address here: https://youtu.be/xO-5WLQvixE