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Stars of Gladness: The Mission and Destiny of BYU-Hawaii Students

Sister Paige B. Holland:

Brothers and sisters, aloha! What a wonderful treat to be with you today. Everything here is so beautiful: the beaches, the flowers, the lush green mountains, and, especially, all of you! Nothing on this magnificent island compares to you. Just by being here, looking the way you look, you tell me a lot about yourself and your character. Very few things are as inspiring as seeing young people making such great choices so early in life.

It is a lot like the feeling Matt and I had one day dealing with our youngest, Danny. He was four at the time. Every day, Danny would hang out with Ruby, his friend from next door. So one day, Matt, who is a bit of a tease, decided to confront Dan and Ruby. (Think of it as a kind of patriarchal “DTR moment.”) Catching them on their bikes, Matt jumped in front of Danny and said, rather sternly, “Danny, you and Ruby are sure spending a lot of time together.” Danny just kind of stared back at him in terror. Matt continued, “Are you two going to get married?” At this point, Danny no longer looked terrified but irritated and said, “Dad, we don’t even know the way to the temple.” Besides laughing hysterically, Matt and I found great joy in knowing that even as a little four year old, Danny was already fixing his sights on a temple marriage. The same could be said of our other children, namely our son Jake who is graduating from high school this year, and just got his mission call to Uruguay, and Mitzi and Grace, our adorable, volleyball-playing teenage daughters. We are delighted to have them with us here for a few days together on the island. Matt is insisting that I announce that this week, none of them are allowed to date.

Let me begin today by saying how much we love President and Sister Tanner and feel so greatly honored to be invited by them to speak to you today. They have been a powerful influence for good all across the Church and a great personal inspiration to both Matt and me since we were newly married. We have especially appreciated stories from their days of graduate school and early family life. In an effort to “pay it forward,” I would like to follow their example and share with you an experience we had in graduate school.

I recall one afternoon where I was functioning on less than three hours of sleep because I had been up the night before with my new baby Mitzi who was sick. I was trying to dig out of a pile of laundry approaching the height of the Tower of Babel, when our two-year-old, Jacob, ran into our kitchen table and split his head wide open, right above his eye. I instantly knew we had to get to the hospital for stitches. I tried to reach Matt who was up on campus, but it was pre-cell phone days, and no one could find him. Since we had gone through roughly this same exercise six months prior to that with Jake, I knew it was going to be a very traumatic experience…for mother and son! Last time it had taken the strength of his father to help the hospital staff keep Jacob still so the doctor could perform the procedure. Now I wondered, how on earth could I pull this off alone? But I had no choice. I left my sick little baby Mitzi with a neighbor, and headed for the hospital with Jake.

As we pulled up, I asked him to fold his arms because we needed to say a prayer. What a touching sight it was for me to then look back in the rearview mirror and see Jake, open wound and all, fold his chubby little arms and shut his eyes super tight. (By the way, just so I don’t get in trouble, I will add that those chubby little arms are now the rock-solid “guns” of an outside linebacker!) In any case, at that moment I pled fervently with the Lord to bless Jake and help both of us get through this experience.

We then went inside, checked in, and were sent to the dreaded waiting room. For two agonizing hours I sat there. As time wore on, so did my worries. I worried about my baby Mitzi being sick and hungry and needing her mother. I worried about my little Jakey having to be strapped in a restraining jacket to control the terror he would feel about getting stitches right around his eye. I wondered if Matt would get any of the messages I’d left with people on campus. I started to envision medical bills we could not afford, and weeks of constant attention to ensure proper healing. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.

Holding back my emotions I approached the receptionist to make sure we hadn’t been forgotten. Taped to her computer was a tattered little bookmark. In big, bold letters, it simply read, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” The instant I read this passage from Philippians 4:13, [1] a sense of calm washed over me. I knew that heaven could get me through this, or any other experience, I was asked to face. And I knew this message was a direct answer to the prayer Jake and I said just a few hours earlier. Moments later and much to my relief, Matt walked through the door with baby Mitzi in his arms.

We made it through that day…and we’ve made it through every day since. And while Matt’s arrival came as an answer to prayer, I learned that afternoon that even had I been asked to face that moment, or any other such moment, alone, I could have done that, too. Brothers and sisters, what Paul said to the Philippians is also true of you: you can do all things through Christ Who will strengthen you. No matter what task you are facing, if your life is one of basic righteousness, you can do it. God will come to you. He will bring you deliverance in your needed hour, or He will “strengthen [you so] that [you can] bear up [your] burdens with ease” [2]. I know. I have experienced such help again and again since I was your age. And, I know the God we can all trust. He lives to comfort you when faint. He lives to hear your soul's complaint. He lives to silence all your fears. He lives to wipe away your tears. He lives to calm your troubled heart. He lives all blessings to impart [3]. I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

President Matthew S. Holland:

As you can see, I am the luckiest man in the world to be married to Paige. In addition to being a constant source of comfort and inspiration, she brought me the greatest children in the world, Jake, Mitzi, Grace, and Dan get-me-to-the-temple-on-time-Holland.

I must echo Paige’s sentiment that we love and admire both of the Tanner’s so much. President Tanner has been especially influential in my professional life. Both as a scholar and a leader, he looks first, and so thoughtfully, to the gospel for his insights and direction. From graduate school to my current role as university administrator, I have been consciously trying to follow his example. It is an honor simply to be with them.

On my office credenza at UVU in Orem, Utah, rest a few items of special meaning. First, there is a small replica of a proposed “Statue of Responsibility.” The concept here was inspired by renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who argued that America should balance its Statue of Liberty on the East Coast with a complimentary Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast—a reminder that our country’s freedoms can only be enjoyed and preserved when buttressed by a healthy dose of individual and social responsibility.

I have my presidential mace. Adorned with a seal from each era of our institutional development, it is a wonderful reminder of the different historical phases of UVU. It is also made out of six distinct woods from the six different continents UVU students hail from. To make it a full seven, we are still looking for that transfer student from Antarctica. If there is a candidate here today, please see me afterwards for a full scholarship. I will also note that the mace comes in handy with disagreeable faculty.

Next to the mace is a jade ball. Actually, it is six jade balls, all amazingly carved from within the same block of jade. Besides being UVU green, it is a symbol of the kind of human ingenuity and careful craftsmanship I hope prevails in all intellectual and practical endeavors in higher education.

Finally, I have a waʻa kaulua. This was gifted to me by one of my Hawaiian students. In fact, she was my intern, and an outstanding one at that. She explained to me that this traditional, double-hulled canoe is a symbol of many things. It is a symbol of connectivity, overcoming the great divide of our globe: ocean and land. It is a symbol of faith, requiring its passengers to push out into an uncertain and often turbulent sea, controlling what they could control, trusting the rest to higher powers of mercy.

Most memorable to me, though, was her explanation that is a symbol of what I will call the “bountiful return.” Rarely if ever were these canoes used for journeys that would take its passengers to far-flung locations as a final destination. Rather, they were almost always used to take islanders out temporarily to gather food, forge alliances, or collect information, and then return to their home island to distribute these resources of sustenance, safety, and knowledge to their family, friends, and fellow villagers. The process of going out, gathering, and returning with bounty was repeated regularly in the life of the wa’a.

The reason I keep this on my credenza, out of the many tokens that find their way to my office, is that, for me, this issue of the “bountiful return” is very much in line with the spirit of education. We leave hearth and home to take a class, earn a certificate, or graduate with a degree, then, with that newly-found knowledge, we return to our families, our jobs, our countries, much better able to make a productive contribution to those people and projects around us that matter the most.

Think of BYU Hawaii’s own I-WORK program, which, in the words of your website, specifically “encourages returnability.” You know the drill, the University helps defray the cost of education for certain students generally from South Pacific and the Far East who, among other things, agree to return to their home countries “to provide leadership roles in an international church, in civic and social affiliations, and within their families” ( If this is not the spirit of waʻa kaulua, I don’t know what is.

I am also quite confident that University and Church leaders hope that it is not just the students on the I-WORK program who will follow this pattern. Long prophetic and presidential traditions on this campus make it very clear that one of the animating purposes of this institution is to produce myriads of students of the Asia-Pacific rim who will come here, learn, and go back to become figures of influence in their communities stretching from Kahuku to Korea. Even those of you not obligated by formal I-WORK agreement should consider the weight of this revelatory encouragement as you think about post-graduation plans.

Of course, such specific geographic returns are not required. Individual lives and missions are too varied and personal for that. But, at some level, the principle I am sharing here applies all students here. Remember, as far as I am concerned, the metaphor of the waʻa is even a powerful message for students in Orem, Utah, attending an Orem school, who plan to live and work and work in Orem when they are finished. Why is this so?

First, whoever you are, and wherever you come from, and wherever you end up after graduation, your education has never just been entirely about you. We now have, quite literally, reams of data showing that by virtue of graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree, you will, over a lifetime, likely earn $1.2 million more on average than someone without a degree. With a degree you are also much more likely to vote and volunteer, as well as avoid divorce, heart disease, clinical depression and time in prison.

Congratulations! We are ecstatic that these rosy outcomes are now far more likely because you are here and determined to finish your degree. We want these things for you. But we also want more. Specifically, we want something from you. We want you to take your life of college-forged success and make a difference in the world. We want you to marry and have children and make sure they are raised in a condition of physical and spiritual security. Beyond that, whether you are serving on a local school board, running a corporation, or elected to high office, we want you to help your communities and countries flourish. Above all, we want you to use the skills and advantages of your college education to help build up the Kingdom of God, wherever you are. Millions—if not billions—of people are counting on you. The Book of Mormon is especially condemnatory of people who take for granted their “chances for learning” and then only worry about their own well-being and luxury [4].

Second, the double-hulled canoe was made to go out and return regularly. This is true of your education as well. Now, after graduating from college, you might never again return to an institution of higher learning to earn an advanced degree. That’s okay. What is not okay is seeing your BYU-Hawaii experience as the end of your educational journey. A great university education should do more for you than just equip you with information and skills. Rather, it should fill you with a desire and an ability to be a lifelong learner. Once you leave here, I trust and hope that you will read regularly, attend lectures, take online courses, watch a biography, attend a conference, spend time with an expert, tackle a writing project. Remember, over the course of your life, you will be far more valuable to your families, your communities, and your businesses if you will take some time for yourself to engage with great literature, thoughtful commentary, cultural enrichment, and cutting-edge research. Especially after college, you must find ways to launch regularly out into the deep waters of learning, not to stay there forever, shirking your daily responsibilities of earning your keep and tending to the home fires, but so you can return to your careers, and your children, and your communities with additional light and power.

Now, as you do so, remember that there is one area of study that should occupy your attention above all others, and that is the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and His chosen prophets. Once again, I turn to the traditional Hawaiian canoe to underscore the point.

Arguably, the most famous waʻa kaulua ever made is the Hokulea. It was built in the mid-1970’s in an effort to revitalize Hawaiian culture. The Hokulea’s most famous voyage was in 1976 when the canoe sailed all the way from Hawaii to Tahiti— more than 26-hundred miles—without using any motor or modern navigational instruments. The sailors did it the old-island or ancestral way. They used the stars.

The name of the boat is a tribute to the fact that the “guiding zenith star” for ancient Hawaiian mariners was called Hokulea. Known today as Arcturus, this star is the brightest in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere, and at Hawaii’s latitude, it passes directly overhead, thus making it possible for sailors to find the islands in the dark across the vast expanse of the Pacific. By fixing on that star, sailors were sure to be guided home, which brought them great gladness and joy. Thus it became known as Hokulea, meaning “Star of Gladness.”

Is not this precisely how we should see the Savior in our lives? Jesus Christ is the light of the world [5]. More particularly, the scriptures refer to him in successive terms as “a Star” [6], “the day star” [7], “the morning star” [8], “the bright and morning star” [9], even the “Sun”—the S-U-N—“of Righteousness” [10]. He is our best, brightest and truest guide. And, unlike the stars that guided ancient Polynesian sailors only after dark, His light comes shining in the day as well as the night. To the extent we ignore this guiding light, we are destined for the certain shipwreck of spiritual death and lasting sadness. Alternatively, following that light is the one fail safe way to find our way back home to Him and lasting happiness.

As the Psalmist says, “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy” [11]. Isaiah promises that all who seek and find redemption through the atonement of the Savior, will “come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” [12]. The great Russian novelist Dostoevsky was not a prophet, but I believe he captures a great truth through one his characters who exclaims, “In our great sorrow, we shall rise again to joy, without which man cannot live nor God exist, for God gives joy” [13]. And Joseph Smith, who was every inch a prophet, taught that “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it” [14]. Well, Jesus Christ is at once the path, and the singular source of light to guide us on that path. He is the ultimate Hokulea, or Star of Gladness, for all mankind and throughout all eternity.

Now, if you were listening closely, the gladness that is promised in Christ often seems to come after, or through, or in juxtaposition with some point of sadness or mourning. This is a sobering reality. I feel impressed to say that someone is sitting in this audience right now who is struggling with the fact that despite believing the gospel with all of your heart, and striving to live as best you can, you are not happy now. Instead, you are really quite sad, even down-right discouraged. I also feel impressed to say that if the person I have just described is not you, it just may be you at some point, or possibly several points, in your earthly journey. To my friend struggling today, and those who might struggle in the future, let me spend the remainder of our time together teaching one final principle. I will do so through the story of the Provo Tabernacle.

The old tabernacle in Provo was completed in 1898. It took years of sacrifice and effort to build it. Then, for more than a century, it stood as the ecclesiastical, communal, and cultural heart of Utah Valley, home to hundreds of thousands righteous Latter-day Saints. Blessed and dedicated for a mighty and sacred mission by George Q. Cannon, the tabernacle has received virtually every prophet of God from Lorenzo Snow to Thomas S. Monson to bear powerful testimony of the Savior. Even before it was dedicated, the tabernacle was put to sacred use by the Church, serving as home to General Conference in 1886 and 1887 when the Church was facing challenges with federal polygamy raids—the only time the Church has, since the move west, held its church-wide conference outside of Salt Lake City. This is to say nothing of the thousands of stake conferences held there for nearly a century and a half.

I attended dozens of those conferences myself. Twice a year, for many years, both as a young boy and an adult, I climbed up the old spiral staircases to sit in the expansive balcony and be taught by inspired leaders. It was also the site of other memorable moments, like a regional cub scout essay contest, my seminary graduation, a moving patriotic service, sensational concerts of sacred and secular music, a heartwarming National Day of Prayer event, and more than one funeral of someone I loved and admired deeply. Like thousands of others in the Provo area, I absolutely treasured that building for its historic beauty and looming role in my spiritual and civic development.

Thus it was nothing less than a personal and public tragedy when, during the night of December 16, 2010, the tabernacle caught on fire and was almost destroyed in its entirety. That evening, the tabernacle had been bustling with activity for the final rehearsal for a Christmas concert called Gloria, a musical retelling of the life of the Savior. With the hall filled with flowers, wreaths, and Christmas lights, many of the performers noted how magical everything felt, and how strong the Spirit was. In the days preparing for that moment, the composer, Lex de Azevedo said repeatedly how much he felt “God was supporting the endeavor” [15].

But as the rehearsal proceeded that night, a light fixture left too close to a wooden speaker box in the attic continued to heat the wood until it ignited. Though alarms went off, the slow-smoldering fire tucked up in the attic went unnoticed, and the alarms were dismissed as false [16]. Several other suspicious warnings were investigated through the night, but the fire was not discovered until 2:43 a.m. by a security guard. Within minutes firefighters were on the scene. But it was too late.

With a full concert set in place, as well as its unique spiral staircases, exquisite hand-carved rostrum, scores of historic benches, and an attic chock-full of 130-year-old 2-by-10 trusses, the tabernacle was one gigantic tinderbox. Consequently, once this four-alarm fire got going, it burned so fiercely that arriving crews could not safely battle it from the inside. Instead, the best they could do was fight the flames from outside. Thus, they trained their hoses on the building’s gorgeous and beloved stained-glass windows, blasting them into shards.

By 4:30 a.m. hundreds had gathered at a safe distance, watching in grief. Many were openly weeping. By 8 o’clock, the roof had caved in, and virtually everything on the inside steadily burned into a pile of charred rubble and ashes. Ultimately, all that remained was the historic structure’s brick shell.

Immediately, the community was awash in grief and confusion. I confess, I was too. How could this happen? Wasn’t this a good building, even a great building—dedicated and blessed for protection? Why would the Lord let this happen? And why now? It was Christmas! And a tireless and devoted cast was ready to perform their hearts out there in a musical tribute to the Savior for hundreds of guests. Why on earth would heaven have not protected this divine edifice at this moment of all moments?

It did not make much sense to any of us, including Buddy Richards, the stake president who oversaw the geographic area of Provo’s Tabernacle Square. The morning of the fire, Buddy was among the emotional masses who came to watch and grieve over the tabernacle’s smoldering embers. He was just incredulous. It all just seemed so wrong. With his heart breaking, he walked around the perimeter of the building asking himself, over and over, how could this have happened? And, then, looking through one of the blown-out windows, he saw something that caught his eye and stopped him in his tracks. Resting on a pile of debris was a painting. Around the edges, it was charred to a crisp like every other solitary thing in that building that wasn’t completely incinerated. But what was preserved, traced out almost to a “T,” in seemingly miraculous fashion, was the unburned image of the Savior.

As he sat there, thunderstruck over how miraculously preserved this image of the Savior seemed to be, having rested on a wall that was now nothing but a pile of burnt rubble he felt as if he was being drawn into a conversation with the Lord. Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he was picturing the Savior addressing him saying, “Buddy, do you know whose house this is?” President Richards then heard himself saying, “Yes, it is Your house.” To which the Lord responded, “Then what business is it of yours if I want to remodel it?”

What President Richards got by impression early on, though only “through a glass, darkly” [17] was something President Thomas S. Monson brought out in big, bold, prophetic relief, eight months later at General Conference:

“Late last year the Provo Tabernacle in Utah County was seriously damaged by a terrible fire. This wonderful building, much beloved by generations of Latter-day Saints, was left with only the exterior walls standing. After careful study, we have decided to rebuild it with full preservation and restoration of the exterior, to become the second temple of the Church in the city of Provo” [18].

Did you hear the audience gasp? I remember the moment so well. I was one of the gaspers. In fact, I was a gasper who quickly dissolved into a bawler. With tears streaming down my cheeks, all of my questions here were fully and finally answered. The tabernacle had not been cast off and ruined forever. No, in a most startling way, it was being transformed into something even greater and more glorious.

Within weeks of President Monson’s announcement, a monumental effort got underway. Other nearby buildings were purchased and demolished. An adjacent underground parking lot and block of city street were acquired. An internal scaffolding was erected and shotcrete applied to shore up the strength of the tenuous brick walls. Most striking of all, the foundation was dug out and cleared away, while the newly shored-up brick walls, weighing roughly seven-million pounds, were, in a feat of engineering genius, suspended on 40-foot-high stilts made of steel without shifting an inch to the left or right. This allowed for a far stronger and more expansive substructure to be put in place—providing new earthquake resistant foundations, two levels of underground flooring, and a massively extended parking lot. Concrete walls were then poured where old wooden wall used to stand. And when a new massive steel beam skeletal structure for the whole building was added to that, a stunning new central tower was added to the roof—something that was part of the old tabernacle when it was first built, but had to later be removed for safety reasons.

Other finishing touches included new grand and spiral staircases that rose far higher and more ornately than anything previously in the tabernacle, new stained glass in beautiful pastels of gold and green, deep woven rugs and dark rich woods, in rooms with vaulted ceilings and soaring gothic arches throughout. On the outside, lush flower gardens, trees, walkways, and a Victorian pavilion with a fountain and gazebo. The picture is one of utter and complete transformation, inside and out.

Consider the building’s new-found reach. In the two weeks preceding the dedication, an estimated 841,000 individuals came to view this spectacular new structure—an audience vastly larger than was set to attend the Christmas concert the fateful night of the fire.

Six years ago, the flames that ravaged the Provo Tabernacle appeared to have ruined—if not completely destroyed forever—one of the loveliest and best things in all of Utah Valley. But just the opposite was true. Those flames were purifying and preparing the tabernacle for something even more extraordinary. Ultimately, the tabernacle was intended for a much grander, even celestial purpose. Well, brothers and sisters, so are you!

This principle has been captured neatly by that great, inspired Anglican intellectual, C.S. Lewis who said:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” [19].

If you are feeling broken down and beaten this morning by a debilitating disease or death of someone close, a grievous sin or gross injustice, a case of bad judgment or an unexpected rejection by the love of your life, or any one of a host of things agonizing or tragic, do not despair! No matter what has happened to you, hold on! In fact, be of good cheer, for this thing will work for your good, as “all things” do for those who love the Lord. The Lord has declared, “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” [20]. Yet, the same Lord who may occasionally subject you to the refiner’s fire is the same Lord who will pull you through on the other end, strengthened, purified, beautified, and joyful, deeply, supremely, and eternally joyful.

As George Q. Cannon, who dedicated the Provo Tabernacle, and whose namesake is on this building we sit in today, once put it:

“Our God can be trusted to the very uttermost. No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, He will never desert us. He never has, he never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and he will be the same throughout the ages to come… We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep his commandments” [21].

To all of you dear young brothers and sisters, but especially those of you who awoke this morning feeling wrecked and ruined, or weeping over some fiery furnace of affliction moment, my message to you is this: turn to that great and glorious Star of Gladness, the Savior of mankind, and be glad yourself. Be glad because “He lives, and loves you to the end” [22]. Be glad because His greatest desire and animating aim is to bring you to the point that you might share in every good thing He has, every richness, every glory, every joy. The Star of Gladness is fashioning you into a star of gladness. I know that this is your true destiny. You are made to be happy. And, you will be happy to the extent that you fix your gaze and chart your course by the incomparably brilliant and loving light of the Lord.

I know that with Christ as your shining zenith Star, the darkest days of burning, bereavement, and burden, simply cannot last. Without fail, you will be given “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” [23] This is your promise and your potential. I so testify of these things in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Philippians 4:13

[2] Mosiah 24:15

[3] Hymn 193

[4] 3 Nephi 6:12

[5] John 1:5; 8:12; Mosiah 16:9

[6] Numbers 24:17

[7] 2 Peter 1:19

[8] Revelation 2:28

[9] Revelation 22:16

[10] Malachi 4:2

[11] Psalm 43:4

[12] Isaiah 51:11

[13]The Brothers Karamazov, Modern Library, 627

[14] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 255–56

[15]Provo City Center Temple, page 25

[16]Meyers, Salt Lake Tribune, March 31, 2011

[17] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[18] October 2011 General Conference, “As We Meet Again”

[19]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Touchstone, 1996, p. 175-176, emphasis added

[20] Isaiah 48:10 and 1 Nephi 20:10

[21]“Freedom of the Saints,” in Collected Discourses, comp. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. [1987–92], 2:185;

[22] Hymn 136

[23] Isaiah 61:1–3 and Luke 4:16–21