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BYU–Hawaii: A Legacy of Remarkable Diversity and Unity

Sisters and Brothers, Aloha kakou.

I am humbled by the support I feel today from Elder Holland and Elder Johnson, from President and Sister Tanner, and from my eternal companion, Monica. Receiving this assignment involved a series of meetings with CES leadership; Monica and I were unaware of the purpose of these meetings. We spent many nights discussing what might be in store for us. Monica’s faith and confidence in the Lord made us both certain that we would accept any invitation that was extended and be capable, with God’s support, of carrying out any request. I love Monica and I am grateful for the humble faith that she exhibits in every aspect of her life.

It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Elder Holland, who I testify is an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ. He walked this path with his young family many years ago; his excitement for us and desire to see BYU–Hawaii continue to thrive has brought us great comfort.

Elder Johnson, the Commissioner of the Church Educational System, is an inspired leader and mentor and I am excited to work with him in the coming years.

President and Sister Tanner are spectacular people. They have led this university with grace and inspiration. We have had opportunities to talk with them over the last few days—each time they have expressed their love for BYU–Hawaii, its supporting community, and their confidence in us. The Tanners led a broadening of the geographic influence of this university. This semester alone, 220 graduates from 21 states and 25 countries received their degrees here. They have overseen improvements to the physical facilities of campus and, most importantly, they have fostered increased unity and spiritual strength. The Tanners have established a standard that Monica and I are honored to continue and challenged to build upon. Thank you, John and Susan, for your selfless devotion to the gospel and to this university.

Monica and I accepted this position at the invitation of President Nelson, President Oaks, and President Eyring, who serve as the Officers of the BYU–Hawaii Board of Trustees. I am grateful for the confirmation I felt both of their prophetic mantle, and of the divine nature of the invitation extended to Monica and I. President Nelson made it clear that this position was for both of us. He instructed us that our success is to be measured by “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence” (D&C 4:6). I know that this direction comes from the Lord and that success will require the love, support, and cooperation of an entire community—a “Zion University,” as President Tanner has so eloquently taught us over these last few years.

As we begin this journey together, I want to share with you my commitment to the mission of BYU–Hawaii “to integrate both spiritual and secular learning and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.”

I am fortunate to come from a heritage of faith and spiritual learning on both sides of my family. My parents, John and Rhonda Kauwe, taught me the gospel in word and deed. As a sixteen-year-old on the island of Molokai, life experiences led me to reflect on my personal commitment to the Savior. I studied and pondered for several weeks and yearned to grow in faith. I worked to be more obedient and sought a stronger personal relationship with Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father through personal prayer. On a perfect spring morning, I knelt in the sand at the Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove and asked Heavenly Father to confirm to me the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. That morning I received a clear confirmation that Jesus Christ was my Savior and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the path to salvation. While life has challenged me in many ways since then, the spirit has confirmed to me on several occasions that these things are true. In Mosiah 2:41, King Benjamin taught, “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” I am grateful for the blessings and happiness that living the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into my life.

Our Heavenly Father also invites us to seek secular knowledge. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:79, we are divinely directed to seek to understand “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”

BYU–Hawaii gathers people across countries and kingdoms and creates unity in spiritual and secular education like no other institution on earth. The mission of this University hinges on that education readying us to lead and build. In his dedicatory remarks for this university in 1955, President David O. Mckay said, “You mark that word, and from this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”

I have personally witnessed that ongoing influence. In the past few years, I have worked closely with BYU–Hawaii faculty and students on several occasions. I have seen their devotion to this school and its prophesied potential. One example that stands out in my mind is Tava'ilau “Stau” Segi, a BYU–Hawaii alumnus who is currently a Ph.D. student in Conservation Biology. Stau is conducting research on environmental issues that threaten livelihoods in his homeland of Samoa. Right now, he is leading a team of undergraduate students in important research efforts and helping his community become more resilient against the challenges of the future.

I have pondered President Mckay’s words and have tried to understand how my life experiences may have prepared me to help realize his prophetic vision. I’m convinced that fulfillment of that vision will require increasing both our diversity and our unity. I come from Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Maori, and Northern European ancestry. I spent my youth in Orem, Utah, and Kailua and Kaunakakai, Hawaii. I had the unforgettable opportunity to serve in the Fukuoka Japan Mission. In my professional life I have worked with hundreds of collaborators from dozens of countries and mentored students from many parts of the world and walks of life.

These experiences, relationships, and perspectives have fostered my creativity and prepared me for effective collaboration. As a result, I have been able to contribute to new scientific knowledge, increase human health and well-being, and develop career and educational paths for students in ways I never dreamed possible. I have found that when people from different backgrounds unite in a single purpose, wonderful things happen. I believe that when we unite in a prophetic purpose, miracles happen.

This University is and will continue to be a place where people from across the world gather to be one in Christ and educate and uplift each other. Diversity of culture, experience, and thought is one of our greatest strengths. So too is our striving for unity as children of God bathed in the light of the restored gospel. Diversity and unity work together here at BYU–Hawaii in remarkable ways. I am deeply committed to building on past efforts to prepare our students with knowledge and testimony sufficient to make them “men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”

Like many of you, I am a direct descendant of men and women who built the first churches and homes that established Lāʻie as a community of Latter-day Saints; a descendant of the men and women who labored to build the temple that stands nearby. My fourth great-grandfather, Kaleohano, dedicated the northwest corner of the Lāʻie Chapel in 1883 and is buried just mauka of the temple. My heart is “turned to my fathers” and I feel deeply connected to the history of sacrifice, faith, and prophetic direction associated with Lāʻie and BYU–Hawaii.

I also have so much to learn! The responsibility and opportunity at hand is exciting and daunting. I am certain that all the love, experience, and knowledge of this community will unite and carry us all successfully forward. Many of you have already contributed to the student experience at BYU–Hawaii for years or even decades. Many will go on to provide decades of service in the future. You have built and sustained this community and you continue to do so. I am grateful for that work and I desire to learn from each of you. I am eager to support each of you in your significant role in continuing to build this Zion university.

I am committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am committed to the mission of this university. As I consider the potential and responsibility associated with being part of this great effort, the closing words of President David O Mckay’s dedicatory prayer are of great comfort to me: “To this end we consecrate our actions, imploring thy guidance and thy inspiration to attend those who lay the foundation of the college, who build it and especially upon those who teach and the students who come to be instructed, and all this we do in the name of thy beloved son and by virtue of the holy priesthood, even so, amen.”

This petition to our Father in Heaven is being fulfilled. The Lord attends to each member of this university community. He will consecrate our work and guide and inspire us as we seek to publish peace from this sacred house of learning. I testify of this to you and express my love and excitement to join you in this effort, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.