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BYU Gave Me a Chance

February 2020

June Leifson seated in her living room.

When June Leifson says that her cleft lip and palate did not deter her in her goals, she doesn’t mean that they didn’t present challenges. In fact, her career goal of becoming a nurse was the result of more than a score of operations that introduced her to the field of medicine in a personal way.

Getting into any nursing program proved difficult for her, but Leifson decided to enroll at BYU and take as many nursing courses as possible. Perhaps it was this persistence that led to her being admitted to the nursing program. “BYU is a wonderful place. It was BYU that gave me a chance,” says Leifson.

Answering the Call

Leifson graduated, found work at LDS Hospital, and later decided to take a job in public nursing in Hawaii. “It was like a mission,” she recalls. Eventually her work drew the attention of her role model—Elder Spencer W. Kimball.

“We had something in common. He had an operation that affected his speech, yet he continued to serve,” she observed. Elder Kimball asked to meet with her and, to her complete surprise, called her on a mission to Japan. Within a couple of weeks, she landed in Tokyo with no language training and no winter clothes, something the mission president’s wife was able to remedy quickly. Learning the language with a speech impediment, however, turned out to be a bigger challenge.

“It was difficult. But I knew the call was from the Lord.”

Leifson loved the language and the people of Japan and enjoyed success. Still, she missed her home, and when her mission was over, she returned to Salt Lake City and continued her career in public nursing.

Sometime later she got a call from the dean of nursing at the University of Utah. “She asked if I would consider getting a master’s degree and teaching in her department,” she says. That call led Leifson to enroll at Wayne State University in Detroit. After graduating with a master’s degree, she began teaching at the University of Utah.

She loved it, but something kept pulling her back to BYU, and she enrolled in a PhD program and began teaching in Provo. “At BYU you could bring the spiritual aspects of nursing to bear along with the science,” she says. “You need both to be effective as a nurse.”

Then one day, almost out of the blue, she got a call to meet with then president of BYU Jeffrey R. Holland. He said he would be meeting with the College of Nursing in about 10 minutes to announce that Leifson would be the new dean. “I was literally in shock,” she says.

Leifson served as dean for seven years. She is now retired and doing Icelandic genealogy research. Still, her love for BYU continues. She is a longtime member of the Jesse and Amanda Knight Society. “I want to do all I can to support BYU, financially and otherwise. I love BYU.”