Read Time: 7 minutes

Kendra M. Hall-Kenyon

Walking a labyrinth is not the same as walking a maze. Both involve following an unknown path and both can be confusing, as a course that seems to lead to a desired destination takes a sudden turn in a different and distant direction. But when that happens, the labyrinth walker has an advantage the maze-goer does not: certainty that the path before her feet need only be followed faithfully, and she’ll get there in the end. That’s because—unlike mazes, filled with wrong turns and dead ends—labyrinths are unicursal: they contain one path, and the destination is assured.

As she sits in the dean’s office of the BYU David O. McKay School of Education, the labyrinth of Kendra Hall-Kenyon’s life is not obvious: on view is a highly respected academic, a longtime leader, a dedicated teacher, and a loving and beloved daughter, sister, wife, and mother. Although little of her life has happened in the ways Hall-Kenyon expected, she knows the winding path she has taken is the one God meant for her.

“I look back and say, ‘Wow, I could not have written a better story for the development, growth, blessings, and challenges I went through,’” she says. “You’ve got to take some risks, and you’re going to have some failures, but in the end you’re going to be what He wants you to be. I ask, ‘How did God lead Kendra to the place He wanted her to be?’ One prompting at a time.”

Hall-Kenyon spent her childhood in Boise, Idaho, the only daughter and second oldest of Stephen and Sophia Hall’s five children. Her mother, a Dutch immigrant and “strong person with a lot of faith,” Hall-Kenyon says, was a homemaker. Her father, an “eternal optimist,” worked in life insurance.

“I had a great childhood,” Hall-Kenyon recalls. “Growing up with four brothers, we played a lot of sports and did a lot of outdoor activities as a family: skiing at Bogus Basin, waterskiing at Lucky Peak, and camping in the mountains of Idaho.”

That idyllic life took a sharp turn when Hall-Kenyon was 14 and her older brother, Jason, broke his neck diving into the waters of Utah’s Lake Powell. He was left a quadriplegic.


“I didn’t have a typical teenaged growing up because, when Jason had his accident, all of our lives changed,” Hall-Kenyon says. “It changes the way you see the world. I sort of let go of all the things most every 14-year-old girl thinks are important. Jason and I were close in age and had a close sibling relationship. He was my big brother in every sense of that term, and his example of faith and perseverance changed my life forever,” she adds.

Jason attended BYU, served as student-body president, married, raised a family, and worked in insurance and motivational speaking before his sudden death in 2019. 

Her family’s gifts of faith and persistence were tested during Hall-Kenyon’s time at BYU. She had two major plans: to study education and to get married. Her academic goals were derailed when, due to a series of circumstances, she could not enroll in the elementary education major.

“That was a difficult experience,” Hall-Kenyon says. “I didn’t know why it was happening. I went over to the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, and I just started
asking, ‘What are your majors?’”

The college’s family science program offered a chance to get a teaching certificate—an answer to Hall-Kenyon’s prayers. “I loved my classes in language development and cognitive development,” she says. “That has remained something I love.”

She gained additional perspective on teaching as a missionary in Las Vegas, and her post-mission return to BYU solidified Hall-Kenyon’s conviction that “we need teachers rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ—not because they’re going to preach but because they understand and teach differently when they have a Christ-centered perspective.”

Hall-Kenyon was relieved that her career plans had turned in a good direction, but her goal of marriage remained unmet.

“I was single, and I was shifting where I thought my life was going,” she says. She leaned heavily on prayer and revelation: “One of the strongest promptings in my life was to be a student teacher in Washington, DC.”

She student-taught fifth grade in a southeastern District of Columbia public school, filled with joy and humility by the way her students—many of them poor and living with violence in their homes and neighborhoods—showed “so much goodness.”

“I typically left my coat and bag in my car,” she says. “Almost every day one student would offer me his coat.”

After returning to Utah, Hall-Kenyon got a job teaching first grade in the Granite School District, but she was gripped by uncertainty.


“I was still wondering what would become of me,” she says. “I was at least on plan Q, let alone plan B. I wanted God to tell me exactly what to do. But of course that’s not usually how God works.”

She decided to move back to Washington, DC, where she took a job teaching first grade, still pondering her deeper questions about the profession. Those questions led her to apply to the human development program with an emphasis in cognitive psychology at Columbia University.

“That was a time when the heavens were really opened for me,” Hall-Kenyon said. It turned out that her unusual undergraduate path had actually qualified her for the studies she
wanted to pursue.

“If I had gone with elementary education, I wouldn’t have been eligible for that program at Columbia,” she says. “When we feel like we’re just wandering, God sees us. He’s got us right
where we’re supposed to be for what He has in store for us.”

Hall-Kenyon moved into student housing at 121st and Amsterdam in New York City, found a local young single adult ward, and settled in for four years at Columbia, earning master’s
and doctoral degrees. She served in her ward, got to know her neighborhood, studied hard, and learned to love her life for what it was.

“I started to see how the Lord had guided me,” Hall-Kenyon says. “I had a sense that I had everything I needed to do the things that will get me back to my Father in Heaven. And that is what matters the very most—I didn’t need to worry about how the rest of the details would get worked out.”

As her 30th birthday and her graduation approached, Hall-Kenyon planned to accept a job offer from a DC-based literacy nonprofit. And then a BYU professor reached out and asked Hall-Kenyon to interview for a faculty position.

“My mom still laughs about this because I’d call her and say, ‘There’s no way I’m coming to BYU,’” Hall-Kenyon says. “Then I’d say, ‘Maybe I should consider it,’ and then I’d be back to ‘Definitely not.’

“One day I was on the Metro, and I just got a powerfully strong impression: ‘You’re going to go to BYU.’ I was like, ‘Noooo! All that time I was asking to know exactly what to do, and now God is telling me to do this?’”

But Hall-Kenyon had learned too much as a scholar and a daughter of God to ignore that guidance. She became a McKay School faculty member in fall 2002.

“Like all the other things God has led me to, it was the perfect thing in so many ways,” she says—but it wasn’t always easy. The challenges of life as a young professor were eased by colleagues such as James Jacob, who appointed himself Hall-Kenyon’s unofficial life coach.


“Jim would always say, ‘What are you doing besides working?’” she says, smiling. “I was like, ‘Jim, I love my job; I love to work.’ He brought me some IKEA meatballs once and
said, ‘Make these and have some people over.’ He knew I wasn’t much of a cook.”

Jacob’s loving, tongue-in-cheek persistence changed Hall-Kenyon.

“It was the little push that I needed at the right time,” she says. “I got on eHarmony, and a week after that I met my husband. I always tell Jim, ‘It’s your fault!’”

Hall-Kenyon matched with Las Vegas resident Jason Kenyon. After a few phone calls, she flew down for a weekend visit; their meeting blossomed into a loving relationship. The couple married in November 2008 and welcomed a son, Max, in 2010.

“He’s a delight: kind heart, loves people, and has a fantastic sense of humor,” she says, and parenting has both delighted and humbled her. “It’s definitely easier to tell people how to teach children than it is to teach your own child! When I was a teacher and single, I’d think, ‘How can your child not get to school with their backpack?’ Then, as a parent, I learned.”

Raising her son helped elevate Hall-Kenyon’s research and teaching, and as her reputation grew, her influence expanded. Eventually she was asked to serve two three-year terms as chair of Teacher Education, the McKay School’s largest department.

Hall-Kenyon felt she’d achieved all she could hope for: happy family life, growing faith, completing her time as department chair, and looking forward to resuming full-time teaching and research. But then she was asked to serve as interim dean when former Dean Richard Osguthorpe became a BYU vice president.

“It was good to be asked to be interim dean because I’m not sure I would have considered applying any other way,” she says. She became dean officially in January 2023. 

Now, from the top floor of the McKay Building, Hall-Kenyon looks over her life’s labyrinth and sees all that has changed—and all that she carried with her the whole time.

“All along I have always had the desire to learn and to grow, and I think that’s true whatever I’m doing,” she says. “When we love something, want to be a part of it, and are
prayerful and trust in the Lord, He makes up the difference.

“What an amazing opportunity this is. I could not have imagined that I would get to do this and that God led me here. Wow! Just wow! I couldn’t be more grateful."

Written by Stacy Krantz
Photography by Bradley Slade