Learning Who I Am


“Next Wednesday,” said the teacher, “bring to class an item that represents who you are.” It was the first assignment in my sophomore English class. Uh oh, I thought. What if I don’t know who I am?

I had just moved to Seattle, Washington. It was my first week in a new school. The teachers didn’t know me. Neither did my classmates. It was an excellent opportunity to redefine myself—both to myself and to others.

Whenever people learned I had recently moved from Utah, they often asked me if I were Mormon. Each time, I would answer in a different way: “I don’t know.” “I was baptized, but I don’t go to church.” “No, but I should be.”

For some reason, I felt a responsibility to God to be a Latter-day Saint. This didn’t make sense because I didn’t quite believe in God. Still, within my heart lay a desire to live a life that would matter. I wanted to make a positive impact and to know that my life was not lived in vain.

My oldest sister, Lark, was the only active member of the Church in our family. She and her husband, Tim, had invited me to attend church with them in their ward, which was nearby. It was something she wanted me to do, and I somehow knew it was something I was supposed to do. So I decided to go.

With my life fluctuating and with the decision of who I would become hovering before me, I tried to think of an item to take to class that would truly represent me.

Needless to say, I had not come up with an item by Monday. Nor had I come up with anything by the time my sister took me to Mutual Tuesday night in her ward. She made some suggestions on the way to the meetinghouse, but none of them satisfied me.

The plans for Mutual that night had been kept secret, so it was with curiosity that I looked into the cultural hall. At first glance I saw tables that appeared to be set for dinner. A second look revealed that there was no food on the tables. Instead of plates containing food, there were copies of the Book of Mormon. Instead of eating utensils, there were writing utensils. Instead of napkins, there were sheets of paper. As I took a seat, my attention was captured by this riddle that had been set before me.

Two missionaries were the central speakers. Each bore his testimony of how he came to learn that the Book of Mormon was, indeed, the word of God.

When they turned our attention to a video that told the story of Christ’s visit to the righteous Nephites and Lamanites after his resurrection, an incredible feeling came over me. The way Nephi described the situation then is also an apt description of how I felt: “And it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them … to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Ne. 11:3). A testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon entered my soul that night, leaving a mark that would affect me eternally.

As Lark and Tim drove me home, I mentally went through my homework checklist. First period, algebra, done. Second period … Sixth period, English—uh oh. What could I take that represented me?

In a still, small voice, the Spirit whispered, “The Book of Mormon.” I instantly recognized that it was not my physical ears that had heard this statement. This was the first time I had felt the Spirit with such distinctness and clarity.

“Cool!” I stated with outright enthusiasm.

“What?” Lark said as she looked over her shoulder.

In awe, I explained, “I think the Book of Mormon is the item I want to take to my English class.”

A smile spread quickly across her face, and she said, “Oh, that sounds great, but it will be really hard.”

That realization dampened my enthusiasm considerably. Would I be giving up popularity and the chance of making friends in my high school life? Sensing my hesitation, Lark suggested that I pray about it before going to bed.

That night, I placed the Book of Mormon with my school books. Then, kneeling, I prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, are you sure this is what you want me to do?” The answer I felt was an immediate yes, accompanied by the assurance of the Spirit. “Will you help me?” I asked. Another strong positive feeling calmed my nerves. Reassured, I went to sleep.

As my sixth-period English class approached, I grew more uncertain. The teacher gave instructions to the class. We were to state our name, what our item was, and why it represented us. The first two requirements I had down pat, but for some reason, I hadn’t thought about the third. I knew what my representative item was; I didn’t know why it was.

When the call for volunteers was made, one girl from the front row stood up and told about her item. Then the girl next to her stood up and took her turn. A pattern started developing in the order of volunteers. I would be the final person to share his item.

When my turn came, I slowly walked to the front of the room. I hadn’t written a speech or even made a mental outline of what I would say. I began with, “My name is Derek Tucker, and this is the item that represents me. It is the Book of Mormon.” From that time until I finished speaking, I felt the Spirit guiding my words. To this day I am not really sure what I said.

After I finished, I braced myself for a verbal assault. But to my amazement and gratitude, there was silence. What truly took me by surprise, however, were the facial expressions of the students. About one-third of the class had tears in their eyes. Others wore stoic expressions. And still others were nervously looking away. Though not everyone may have felt comfortable about the subject, there seemed to be an atmosphere of respect.

As I turned to walk back to my seat, I saw that the teacher’s face was streaming with tears. She whispered in an emotional voice, “That’s a strong testament.” I was stunned; time slowed as the statement penetrated my heart. I said, “Thank you,” and then walked back to my desk.

I had put my trust in the Lord, and he had helped me. I now knew who I was—a precious son of Heavenly Father. And I knew that as I served him, my life would have meaning and value.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus