Following in My Father’s Footsteps: Two Generations of Master’s Degrees in Spanish

The Lemons and Richardsons have created a language-learning legacy in their families by the acquisition of master’s degrees in Spanish by two generations of BYU students.

PROVO, Utah (Mar. 1, 2017)—Though similar levels of education between parents and their children is statistically significant, it is much less common that children choose the same college major as their parents. In the case of the Lemons and Richardsons, not only did the children gain a master’s degree in a foreign language like their fathers, but they also studied Spanish at the same location – BYU.

The Lemons

Both Charles Lemon and his daughter Kiersty Lemon-Rogers received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish at BYU. Lemon is a BYU adjunct professor of Spanish who teaches the medical Spanish course, and Lemon-Rogers is now pursuing a doctorate in Spanish literature. Her dissertation focuses on the science fiction novels of Rosa Montero.

Charles Lemon first became interested in Spanish in high school. After his mission to Mexico, Lemon taught Spanish at the MTC, an experience he really enjoyed. “I decided to declare a secondary Spanish teaching major, but I didn’t enjoy my student teaching experience. I thought teaching at the college level would be more like teaching at the MTC, so I did a master’s degree and I really enjoyed that,” said Lemon. After a semester of pursuing a doctorate degree, Lemon decided to withdraw and return to an earlier plan of going to medical school.

Lemon described his Spanish studies as “kind of a detour, but an enjoyable detour.” After twenty years in the medical profession, he was diagnosed with an eye condition, which caused him to lose vision gradually. “In 2012 it got to the point where I couldn’t safely practice my specialty, emergency medicine. I was second guessing myself due to my vision,” explained Lemon. “I decided to quit my practice and needed something to do. My wife and I moved to Provo to be closer to our daughter and son who were studying here.”

While Lemon and his wife participated in a service mission at the MTC, he became involved in discussion with the BYU Spanish faculty about organizing a medical Spanish class. “Throughout all my years in the practice, we had lots of Spanish-speaking patients and I was always the only one who spoke Spanish in the department,” Lemon said. The other doctors would have to rely on interpreters, which Lemon admitted can be tricky. “[There are] medical misunderstandings even when both parties are speaking the same language. Language differences make it much harder, as there can be cultural misunderstandings and other issues.”
Throughout homeschooling their children, Lemon and his wife made language learning a priority. Kiersty Lemon-Rogers began to study Spanish at the age of five. Of her experience studying Spanish growing up, Lemon-Rogers said, “Learning Spanish at home was fun. We had the opportunity to travel to Mexico and Chile as a family, and that was a good chance to practice speaking. I like being able to talk to people in their native language. I knew I wanted to continue learning the language until I was fluent in it.”

Above all, she feels that cultural competence is as important in learning a language as vocabulary. “As I teach beginning Spanish, I try to make sure to incorporate the skills that will allow students to see other people as complete individuals, not just as numbers or problems,” commented Lemon-Rogers.

The Richardsons

Nathan Richardson also has a legacy of language learning in his family. “I actually have pioneer ancestors who lived in Mexico. Sullivan Calvin Richardson was my ancestor. He lived in the colonies and spoke completely fluent Spanish,” said Richardson. “Charles Edmund Richardson, Sullivan’s brother, actually translated a lot of the hymns into Spanish.”

Richardson is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, following in his father’s footsteps, who is currently a professor of Spanish at BYU–Hawaii. Professor Richardson first pursued business with a master’s in public administration, but years later decided he was more interested in the process of language educations, and so went back to BYU to receive a master’s in Spanish and a PhD in foreign language acquisition from the University of  Texas at Austin. Like Kiersty, Nathan was also homeschooled and started learning Spanish as a child, for him at the age of 12.

Growing up, Richardson thought that studying Spanish would help him later as an LDS missionary. “It kind of runs in my family to get called Spanish speaking,” Richardson said. “I know that’s pretty common because there are so many Spanish speaking missions, but as time went on it seemed like we had twenty mission calls in a row that were all Spanish. It felt like duty to learn it.”

After serving his mission in the Dominican Republic and completing his bachelor’s in Spanish, Richardson was inspired to pursue his master’s by his father and also professor Jeff Turley, who later became his thesis chair for his master’s degree. “Turley and my dad actually knew each other at BYU pursuing their Master’s in Hispanic Linguistics, they would play basketball together…I want to do well in the program because of both their examples.” Currently Richardson is unsure whether he also wants to get his doctorate in Spanish, or try his hand in business.

Both families listed several benefits they have experienced from language learning. Kiersty Lemon-Rogers said, “I feel it’s vital to understand that every person has a culture and that learning about new cultural ideas can help us be better humans. That’s what the humanities is about for me: being a good human and doing what I can to communicate well with other humans by treating them as equals.”

Hannah Sandorf Davis (B.A. Art History and Curatorial Studies ’17)

Hannah covers events for the Spanish and Portuguese Department for the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.

images: Charles Lemon with wife Marianne and daughter Kiersty at Kiersty’s BYU graduation 

Nathan Richardson, his wife, mother and father