McKenzie Beckstead is a senior at Brigham Young University, where she studies political philosophy and communications. She is currently the president of BYU’s Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) chapter: BYU Tocqueville Society. Throughout her life, she has been interested in education reform and even helped create a school curriculum that is currently being tested at a private school in Las Vegas. Besides philosophizing with her closest friends, Beckstead loves to read outside on sunny days and ski “the greatest snow on earth” in Utah. From 2014-2015, Beckstead served a religious mission in Northern Argentina, where she picked up her unique Spanish accent. Upon graduation, Beckstead hopes to attend law school with an emphasis in conservative public policies such as school choice and religious liberty.
- How did you find out about ISI? What drew you to get involved in ISI's programming?
As a child, my great-grandmother gifted me a set of the “Great Books of the Western World,” which I read voraciously. However, I found myself to be intellectually isolated, unable to share thoughts with classmates, or even teachers.
When I was a college freshman, I excitedly signed up for a philosophy class. On the first day, it was announced that “BYU Tocqueville Society” would be meeting that week. My first thought was, “wait—is this a club for other people who have read Tocqueville too?” I couldn’t believe it.
At the meeting, I met other like-minded people with whom I could finally share thoughts. Through BYU Tocqueville Society, I learned about ISI. I attended my first ISI conference soon after, and never looked back. Leo Strauss once explained that a philosopher cannot philosophize without friends; I’m grateful for the friendships that I’ve gained through ISI, both at BYU and throughout the nation.
- If you had to choose one highlight of your undergraduate experience, what would it be?
My sophomore year, I took a class on Tocqueville from Dr. Ralph Hancock. Dr. Hancock studied at Harvard under Harvey Mansfield, who translated Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Not only did I have a great book to study, but I had a great mentor to guide me. I had been reading and thinking about conservative ideas for a long time beforehand, but after the class, my heart changed. I knew that my education would have to mean something— at least, something more than a piece of paper and a job. I knew that what I had learned has deep philosophical, theological, and political implications for myself, my community, and the country. I am committed to promoting the type of ideals that Tocqueville and Dr. Hancock taught me—and to them, I will always be indebted.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
I love receiving new books and marking them up, and I enjoy the weekly reading group meetings on campus. But the best part about ISI is being able to attend conferences and be exposed to new ideas and perspectives I would not have otherwise experienced. Specifically, the ISI Honors Scholars program enabled me to understand how conservatism differs among individuals in different regions, philosophies, and religious traditions. I value the friendships I’ve gained through such conferences, and the conversations I have participated in. Although I can form and learn ideas from books, bringing them in complete fruition is only possible through dialectic.
- How have you spent your summers while in college?
During the summer of my freshman year, I went to Ottawa, Canada with BYU’s Tocqueville Society. We met with professors in Canada, talked about several conservative books, and toured Ottawa. For the summer of my sophomore year, I was on a religion mission in northern Argentina. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and I remained in Argentina for a year and a half. When I got home from my mission, I went back to school in the Fall. This past summer, I remained enrolled in classes and did a mentored research on the philosophy of education. I also attended ISI’s week long Honor’s Program at Lewis and Clark college in Portland, Oregon.
- Whom do you admire most, and why?
I have fictional heroes like Jane Eyre, and historical heroes like Joan of Arc. But, honestly, my mother, Laurel Beckstead, holds my deepest admiration. Having overcome difficult life circumstances, she is now the headmaster of a Christian academy.
When she was a child, Laurel once went kite-flying with her grandfather. When the kite reached string’s end, her grandfather asked if she wanted to make the kite go higher. My great-grandfather left to find more string. While away, the wind grew stronger, wrapping the string tighter around my mother’s hands. Refusing to let go, the string cut into her palms, and blood ran down her hands. Upon return, her grandfather, shocked, asked why she held on. “I wanted to see how high it would fly,” she replied.
That story is an analogy of the character my mother has: a fierce tenacity to ensure all that she loves reaches its highest potential.
- What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?
Read classics and good books during every spare moment and, “write like you’re running out of time.” As you do this, you will find that an education in true principles cannot be a solitary experience. Ideas will flow out of you in your words and actions, which will attract other inspired thinkers to you. The current educational system has impoverished the souls of students. Students sense a void, and as you fill that void within yourself, conservative conversations will start naturally. ISI provides books, student publications, and connections.
Finally, as most conservative students have experienced, there will be fierce opposition to what you have to say. It is easy to respond angrily, but respond patiently, in love and in truth. No matter how logical or consistent an ideology is, if it doesn’t promote kindness, then it is no good at all. Be a considerate ambassador for conservatism.