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Family of scholars: Utah family celebrates 5th graduate from Harvard University

One Utah family celebrated a unique academic achievement at the end of May.

As Samuel Brinton, the youngest son of Greg and Sally Brinton of Salt Lake City, walked across the stage to accept his diploma from Harvard University on May 26, he became the fifth of seven siblings to graduate from the prestigious Ivy League school.

"We let them make their decision, and they picked Harvard. We just encouraged them to do their best and serve others," Sally Brinton said. "It's been a remarkable experience for our children. We will miss the close association we've had with the university."

It's challenging enough for one student to be admitted to Harvard, let alone five from the same family. Fewer than 2,100 of the 37,300 applicants for the class of 2019 were accepted, according to school's website at

The Brinton family attributes its excellence in education to goal setting, hard work and service while striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"We had high expectations for our children, but at the same time, they had their free agency," Sally Brinton said. "I think they found safety in the teachings of the gospel in our home. That’s what has made a difference."

Tradition of excellence

Greg and Sally Brinton set a high standard for scholarly pursuits.

Greg Brinton graduated from Stanford University and the University of Utah Medical School before becoming an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, and Sally Brinton earned a degree at the University of Utah and a master's degree in piano performance at The Juilliard School in New York.

The Harvard tradition started with their oldest son, Jonathan Brinton. He was reluctant to apply and was surprised to be accepted, his mother said.

"It had been his dream to go to BYU, but he saw Harvard as an incredible opportunity," Sally Brinton said.

After graduating from Harvard in 2001 with a degree in government, Jonathan Brinton went on to law school at the University of Virginia. The 39-year-old now lives in St. George.

Jason Brinton, 38, followed in 2002 with a degree in Russian literature. He then graduated from Harvard Medical School and is now a practicing laser vision correction surgeon in St. Louis.

Stephanie Brinton Parker, 27, graduated in East Asian studies with an emphasis in Japanese in 2010. She attended graduate school at Boston University and is now a dietitian and nutritional counselor in Salt Lake City. She is a frequent guest on KSL-TV’s Studio 5, where she discusses health and wellness issues.

Lindsey Brinton Harris, 26, earned a degree in economics in 2014 and is attending law school in San Francisco.

Samuel Brinton, 23, also earned a degree in government, and he has accepted a position with management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Minneapolis.

The Brintons’ two other children opted to attend Brigham Young University.

Eric Brinton, the third son, graduated in 2004 and went on to medical school at the University of Utah. He became a retina specialist like his father and joined the family practice.

Jessica Brinton Alldredge, the oldest daughter, graduated from BYU with a degree in nursing.

As they were growing up, each child learned to sing or play a musical instrument, found success in athletics, and engaged in various extracurricular activities, Sally Brinton said.

Five of the seven siblings were ranked first in their high school class and received all kinds of student awards, honors and accolades, lettering primarily in tennis and basketball. Two served as student body president.

Every member of the family speaks at least one foreign language. The language list includes Russian, Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Hebrew and Japanese. Five in the family have also studied Latin.

Several in the family have served LDS missions. Four served in Russian-speaking missions, and parents Greg and Sally Brinton presided over the Russia Vladivostok Mission from 2012-2015.

Two Brintons also served as LDS Student Association presidents while at Harvard.

Considering all of their accomplishments, it's easy to see why their parents are proud.

"They are just good kids," Sally Brinton said. "We could always count on them to make good decisions. We taught them to be independent, and I don't think any of them suffered from homesickness while away at school. They were always kind to keep in touch."

At least one of the Brinton children, Jason, was inspired at a young age by his grandfather Sherman S. Brinton. Not only did the grandfather read to the children from books on various topics, ask interesting questions and make learning fun, but he also asked them to ponder the words of famous Harvard clergyman Phillip Brooks, who said: "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle."

Spiritual foundation

The Brintons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and faith has been at the foundation of the family and everything they've done, Sally Brinton said.

Each night at 9 p.m., the family gathered for scripture study. Any friends in the house were invited to join in.

"We probably included a delivery man or door-to-door salesman in our scripture reading from time to time. … No excuses were considered acceptable," Jason Brinton said. "You could probably count on one hand the number of times when we did not read scriptures between 1986 and the day I left the home 10 years later to attend Harvard. I carried these habits with me to Harvard, and for my own family now, we look forward to reading together daily (in English and Russian)."

Family prayer was also essential, Sally Brinton said.

"You wouldn’t send your child out into the freezing cold without the protection of a winter coat," she said. "Likewise, why send your child out into the world without the protection of prayer? My husband and I had many earnest prayers for our children growing up because there were so many negative influences out there in the world."

When it came to friends and dating, the family enforced a strict midnight curfew. Not one child accused the parents of being mean. They weren't perfect, but they did their best, Sally Brinton said.

Now with 21 grandchildren and one more on the way, the Brintons hope to pass these messages of faith, family, citizenship and kindness on to the next generation.

"The gospel of Jesus Christ has been the greatest guide for our children," Sally Brinton said. "There is nothing magical about it. We've tried to implement what our prophet has taught us — read from the scriptures, have family prayer and have family home evening. It's not alway easy … but it's such a blessing to have children recognize how important God is in their lives."

Lessons learned

Live the gospel, maintain a positive attitude, work hard and do your best were among several lessons the Brinton children said they learned from watching their parents.

While largely successful in many endeavors, the Brinton children also admitted to struggling at times and learning valuable lessons in the process.

"I would hate for anyone to think our family is perfect or even close to it," Stephanie Brinton Parker said.

She remembers calling home in tears after a Japanese class. She was exhausted physically and mentally, and falling behind. Over the phone, her mother spoke of their Mormon pioneer ancestors overcoming incredible trials by faith. Mother and daughter said a prayer together over the phone, then Sally Brinton told Stephanie to "pull herself up by the bootstraps," take a shower and a nap, then get back to work, Parker said.

"Things work out as they always do," said Parker, who is a mother of two. "You definitely learn the most from the extremely difficult moments."

Jonathan Brinton recalled getting the lead in the school musical. Initially, he turned it down, but he was encouraged to "do something outside his comfort zone" by his parents.

"It ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," he said.

A few years later, Jonathan Brinton came home early from his LDS mission because of a serious health problem. Despite his discouragement, he gained a stronger testimony of the gospel through his studies. He also learned patience and empathy for others who struggle with health challenges, he said.

Lindsey Brinton Harris said her LDS faith, along with habits gained by serving a mission in Sweden, gave her the confidence to succeed at Harvard and law school while also getting married and starting a family. Her faith also gave her the courage to stand up in a class of 180 people and boldly talk about the harmful effects of pornography, she said.

"My faith has made all the difference in my educational pursuits. My faith is why I value education so highly and, in turn, work as hard as I can in my studies," she said. "It has been tough, but my parents have always said, 'You're a Brinton, and Brintons can do hard things.'"

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