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An Example in This Little Place


Before I start my prepared remarks, I want to talk a little.

Perhaps you remember on Friday morning I told you about my embarrassing experience on the Church Educational System executive committee Zoom call. Due to my inexperience and ignorance, I did something that was not appropriate to the situation. Fortunately, it was minor and I've been able to learn and correct it immediately.

Perhaps you've also heard that Friday night there was a party at Laie Point. The party violated state regulations regarding COVID and also featured drugs and alcohol. While the organizer is not a BYU–Hawaii student, it has been reported that many BYU–Hawaii students were there. They should not have been. We have also noticed as we've returned to campus a continuing struggle to take the dress and grooming standards seriously.

It is time to honor your commitments and follow the honor code and dress and grooming standards. This is not a regular university. When you have the privilege to attend BYU–Hawaii you also represent the church in a way that is not unlike wearing a missionary tag. You represent yourself, your family, the University, the Board of Trustees (which includes the first presidency), the Church, and the Savior.

We need you to do this appropriately. That means obeying state and local regulations with respect to COVID. It means following the honor code the very best you can. And it means adherence to the dress and grooming standards on and off campus at all times that you are enrolled as a BYU–Hawaii student.

This party and the associated behavior are not taken lightly by the University or the surrounding community. Please reflect on your choices this week. Figure out what you need to learn and remember, and what you need to leave behind. Do not let yourself or those around you make these mistakes again. Thank you.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week of orientation and preparation for this semester. I haven’t met all of you, but I have been able to talk to a few of you at various activities and in chance meetings, and it has been an absolute pleasure.

I want to begin by sharing with you the love and support of the BYU–Hawaii Board of Trustees. Over the last year, I have experienced their very real interest in your happiness and wellbeing. They spend much more time than I ever imagined making and executing plans to support your intellectual and spiritual growth and success.

I also want to share my personal gratitude that this university exists and is sustained so generously by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even in the very difficult circumstances that the world faces today, we have the resources and support to be here together. This is the direct result of generations of work and sacrifice on our behalf. Be grateful for it!

I am grateful for each of you. I am grateful that you have worked throughout your life to be qualified intellectually and spiritually to be part of this community. I am grateful for the efforts and sacrifices you and your families have made to be here today. Thank you for your trust and confidence in me and the rest of the university staff. These are complex times, and it takes great trust to come to campus and be part of this learning community. Thank you!

In preparation for this evening, the New Student Orientation team collected questions from you for me to answer. There won’t be time this evening to respond to all of your questions, but I have grouped many of them into some basic categories, and they have shaped the rest of my message for you this evening.

Three Words

First, you wanted to know:

  • What makes BYUH stand out from other universities?
  • What is one thing you hope we really understand about us coming to school here?
  • If you could sum up BYU-Hawaii in three words or values, what would they be?”

I was intrigued by the “three words” question. Thanks, McKenna! She had a lot of great questions.

I’ll address this topic with three words:

  • Incomparable
  • Revealed
  • Leaders


When I started at BYU–Hawaii, I got serious. I read everything on the website. President Tanner and the vice presidents sent me many spreadsheets, reports, and slide decks that taught me

about the University. I searched the internet and read everything, good and bad, about the University that I could find. I gathered more and more information about the university, everything from graduation rates to social media complaints. But I needed context.

My personal experiences were from BYU and Washington University in St Louis. Neither university was comparable in size or purpose to the metrics available to me. So I asked the University staff: “when we look at graduation rates, faculty and staff salaries, etc., who do we compare ourselves to?” The answer was Hawaii Pacific University and Chaminade, I guess. So, I researched those universities a bit, but they aren’t comparable in size, student composition, or mission either. I have come to realize that BYU–Hawaii is incomparable in the Church Educational System AND in the broader context of higher education. What makes us special and incomparable We have a student population, which President McKay mentioned in his dedicatory address, that spans Asia and the Pacific Islands and brings people together in ways that are simply not done at any other University in the world.


In 1921, Elder David O. McKay, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited the community of Laie and had a vision that an institution of higher education would be built here. At the groundbreaking for the Church College of Hawaii in 1955, President David O. McKay said, “My esteemed fellow workers, brothers, and sisters—this is the beginning of the realization of a vision I saw 34 years ago when one morning President Hugh J. Cannon, President E. Wesley Smith, others, and I witnessed a flag-raising ceremony by students of the Church school here in Hawaii in Laie. In that little group of students were Hawaiians, what do you call them—Haoles, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Filipinos...That ceremony brought tears to my eyes. Truly the melting pot, but more impressive than that was our assembly in the old chapel that stood by. There we met as members of The Church of Jesus Christ—Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, all the races represented on this island. There we met as one, members of the Church, the Restored Church of Christ. What an example in this little place of the purposes of our Father in Heaven to unite all peoples by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

BYU–Hawaii was established in response to revelation given directly to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the only university in the Church Educational System that was established that way. The dedicatory service in 1951 formally launched a journey that continues to this day. All those who have worked and studied here, those who are currently affiliated with this institution, and those who will yet arrive have the sacred privilege of dedicating and consecrating themselves to helping move this enterprise forward toward achieving that prophetic vision.


The revealed nature of BYU–Hawaii means that there are many specific prophecies associated with the University and its students. We don’t have time to cover all of them today, but they all have been and continue to be fulfilled. As I consider this audience and our chance to be together tonight, I thought of the prophecies associated with you.

This University was established to lead the world in building peace internationally—pretty lofty goal! President Marion G. Romney elaborated on this leadership saying, “Because the student body here is such a marvelous and representative group, this college is a living laboratory in which individuals who share the teachings of the Master Teacher have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another. For what can be done here interculturally in a small way is what mankind must do on a larger scale, if we are to ever have real brotherhood on this earth.”

BYU–Hawaii trains leaders. President McKay said, “One man said the world needs men who cannot be bought or sold, men who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce. More than that, they’ll be leaders. Not leaders only in this island, but everywhere. All the world is hungering for them and best of all the world is recognizing them. “

These prophetic words have been and are being fulfilled. Alumni of this University are leaders in families, communities, wards, stakes, and governments all over the world. You are being trained at a university that has been prophetically blessed to train leaders that all the world is hungering for and recognizing. What a spectacular blessing and promise!

Personal Development and Balance

Second, you had questions about personal development and having balance in your lives.

  • How did your college experience increase your testimony and what are things you did to strengthen your relationship with the Lord?
  • How do we keep the good habits which we had on the mission? How do we keep ourselves spiritually and self-disciplined during university time?
  • How to have a perfectly balanced student life? Please share some of your inspirations and stories.

Let’s start with my college experience at BYU in Provo, Utah. My first semester didn’t go all that smoothly. I started by spending the first week in the hospital, followed by several weeks of painful recovery. I immediately was behind in my schoolwork and felt isolated socially because I had missed all the initial ward activities. This led to my less than regular and less than enthusiastic participation in classes and ward functions. I was off to a terrible start.

As I pondered this time of my life and your questions, I thought about my personal experiences with balance. Memories of riding my bike on my mission came to mind. I rode a bike on my mission- nearly every day. I became very comfortable on that bike. I could jump obstacles, bounce from front to back tire. I suspect I even dozed off a few times while riding. I remember that my companions and I often tried to balance when stopped at a traffic light. It was so difficult to balance when not moving. It took incredible focus and all kinds of contortions of one’s body. Even as I improved, balancing while stationary was a difficult and temporary achievement. But when the bike was in motion with a clear direction, balance was simple, even natural. Think about when you learned to ride a bike. The most important thing was to overcome the fear of moving and just GO. Then balance became easier and soon was something that came naturally and required little conscious effort.

I think that much of my difficulty in those first months of my college experience came from the lack of purpose, direction, and movement. I was, in a sense, trying to balance while stationary. As I began to refocus on important trajectories- for me at the time it was better performance in school and preparation for a mission- I built speed and balance was easier for me to find.

So, my first direction to you would be to worry less about balancing and more about moving in the direction you want to go!

While you are headed in that direction, remember that there is no “perfect balance.” Continued balance requires constant adjustments. The key to “making it look easy” is purpose, direction, and movement. I am quite certain that as you build momentum toward your righteous desires, the many small adjustments that are necessary to stay balanced will come to you naturally through experience and through the promptings of the Spirit.

Unique Opportunities

You asked several questions about the unique opportunities afforded by the diversity of our university community.

  • How will the Spirit of BYU–Hawaii help me fit in with students from around the world with different interests, cultures, and backgrounds?
  • What is the best way to approach diving into this beautiful Hawaiian culture at BYU-Hawaii as a Freshman?
  • How, as students of BYUH, can we best contribute to our community and keep it safe?

These days it seems we speak of safety more frequently than we have in many years. We hear daily conversations about the safety of physical distancing, wearing masks, etc.

Consider the history of La’ie that you have learned this week. Laie has always been a pu’uhonua, a place of refuge and safety.

In his inaugural address, President Tanner said, “I see a university that is intended to be not only ‘a school in Zion’ but a Zion university—a place where people from many nations learn together in purity, peace, unity, and love. May this school savor so strongly and so sweetly of Zion that it creates an appetite in its graduates to build Zion everywhere.”

This community is tight-knit. We rely on each other. We have a special responsibility to support each other here at the University, but also to support the Laie Hawaii Temple, and the community of people from all over the world that have lived here for generations.

Your actions here, whether you are on campus, at the Polynesian Cultural Center, at Laie Shopping Center, at Hukilau Beach, directly impact the spiritual and temporal safety and stability of the Temple and the community that supports it. We have a responsibility to preserve this community as an oasis of righteousness and Christ-like love.

The Honor Code, including the dress and grooming standards, is part of that responsibility.

Please listen closely.

Continued adherence to the Honor Code and dress and grooming standards is not a matter of preference or opinion. It is a matter of personal integrity and a requisite for your continued attendance at BYU–Hawaii.

Given the long break we have taken from on-campus life, I just want to be clear. The dress and grooming standards apply to all of us, all the time. I want to thank all of you for following the standards.

I also want to remind you that, if we as a university community demonstrate a collective struggle to adhere to those standards, then we will have to adjust the way we enforce them. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. Let’s just live up to our personal commitments and enjoy the wonderful opportunity we have to be together on this campus.

Last year I stated that “Diversity and unity work together here at BYU–Hawaii in remarkable ways.” I love every student at BYU–Hawaii. We come from more than 70 countries and many different walks of life. We each carry a novel set of imperfections that are shaped by our experiences and cultures. At times, there will be challenges. Look beyond the stereotypes of the world. Look beyond yourself. See your classmates, the university faculty and staff, and the community as children of God. Allow others space to learn and change. Allow yourself space learn to change.

Together we will develop and maintain a campus where each student strives to honor their covenants and commitments, where each student exhibits Christ-like love for themselves and those around them, and where each student feels safe and loved.

Making and honoring sacred covenants with our Father in Heaven is what unifies us.

Every difference between us, whether it is race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, political views, or something else, is part of the beauty and complexity of this university community and must be valued if we are to fulfill the words of President David O. McKay, to be “ example in this little place of the purposes of our Father in Heaven to unite all peoples by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

A Challenge

On April 29, 2020, Monica and I sat with President Nelson, President Oaks, President Eyring, Elder Holland, and Elder Johnson in the Church Administration Building. We accepted an offer to serve as the President of BYU–Hawaii. From that moment, I have sought to discover my purpose, what I need to work on, in this role. For me, this discovery process begins with my personal connections to Laie and this university.

After the lands here in Lāʻie were purchased, faithful Saints from around the islands began gathering. My fourth great grandfather, Kaleohano was one of them. Kaleohano was of royal lineage and was highly educated in Hawaiian and western knowledge. Kaleohano met Elder George Q. Cannon and was baptized in the summer of 1851. After his baptism, Kaleohano accompanied Elder Cannon to the other side of Maui, beginning a lifetime of missionary service. He used his language skills to teach Elder Cannon to speak Hawaiian. His education in the Hawaiian oral tradition made him a powerful speaker, and his noble lineage allowed him to facilitate connections for the missionaries wherever they traveled. In 1865, the Kaleohano family moved to Lāʻie with many other church members to establish an agricultural colony. Kaleohano and his wife Ka’ahanui frequently hosted newly arrived American missionaries at their home in Laie to help them learn to speak Hawaiian.

During his time in Lāʻie, Kaleohano became the Hawaiian Monarchy’s primary contact within the church. In August of 1871, Kaleohano and his cousin Jonatana Napela were once asked to give a priesthood blessing to King Kamehameha V. Later, in April 1874, King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi’olani visited Lāʻie. Many visits followed, and the king and queen regularly stayed with Kaleohano and Ka’ahanui or with their daughter Lucy. Kaleohano dedicated the northwest cornerstone of the Lāʻie chapel on April 6, 1882. In the fall of 1883, the King attended the chapel dedication, and Kaleohano gave the welcoming remarks upon the King’s arrival.

Kaleohano spent his life in service, including missions to each of the Hawaiian Islands and many years working on behalf of the Saints in Lāʻie. His last call was as a "home missionary" in 1893. He passed away in March of 1896 and is buried near the Lāʻie Hawaii Temple. His descendants have lived and served in Lāʻie for many generations.

My connection to this place continues with my grandfather, John Sai Keong Kauwe, Sr. In the Church College of Hawaii dedicatory prayer, President David O. McKay prophesied that millions of people would come to Lāʻie. My grandfather, who was not a member of the church at the time, attended this dedication in person. He came home and teased my Grandma Harriett (who was a faithful Latter-day Saint) saying, “that old haole man is crazy” and, “no one would come to Lāʻie for anything but fishing.” My grandfather was baptized seven years later and lived to see that prophesy fulfilled!

Years later, my father John Sai Keong Kauwe, Jr. studied Mandarin in the Language Training Mission that is now known as “Hale 2.” After his mission, he returned to attend school and performed at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

On July 1st, 2020, my wife Monica and I, John Sai Keong Kauwe the third, and our five children began our chapter in this story. Coming to Lāʻie has been a powerful experience for me. I have felt the Spirit testify to me of the divine nature of this place and of the importance of my role in fulfilling the prophecies associated with this university.

As I have contemplated these responsibilities, one thing I have felt very strongly is that the most important part of this continuing story of BYU–Hawaii is YOU. Every prophecy, every sacrifice, every challenge that has been overcome to build and sustain this University is for you. This university exists for your secular and spiritual education, your development as a leader and disciple of Christ, and your future success in building your family and your community.

This unique heritage and legacy now resides and depends upon you.  

In Doctrine & Covenants 18:8, the Lord spoke of Joseph Smith saying, “And now, marvel not that I have called him unto mine own purpose, which purpose is known in me;” I want you to understand that the Lord has called you to this place.

He knows your purpose.

Next Sunday is fast Sunday. In the coming week, I invite you to ponder the legacy that you wish to build during your time here at BYU–Hawaii. Next Sunday, share your plan with your Heavenly Father through fasting and prayer. He will provide you with a clear understanding of your purpose here at this University and of your place in the beautiful story of Lāʻie and BYU–Hawaii.

The Lord will sustain you as you align your desires with His and seek to fulfill your eternal purpose. I testify to you that you will feel his influence in your life as you seek to be obedient and to honor the Spirit and heritage of this place. Thank you for joining us at BYU–Hawaii. Sister Kauwe and I love you. We are working and praying for your success.

My ancestor, Kaleohano, wrote a song about his testimony of the gospel about this community. The following is the English translation.

Come and receive the everlasting Jesus

Receive your eternal inheritance, it is the King’s [Jesus] desire

Hurray, Hurray

It is the desire of the Most High God

Let us ascend to the Temple

All Hail, all Hail

Proudly proclaim [the gospel] from Haleakala to the lowlands of Ni’ihau

Reside in peace, His children forever

Rejoice, Rejoice

I want to have my kids come up for just a second and Monica is going to join us as well. We are going to share our testimonies with you through this song.

That song is part of our heritage and is part of the legacy that has been built by our ancestors and their love of the gospel. I hope that you will be thoughtful this week as you consider the legacy that you want to leave here in this place and build for the future. For your family, for your community, and all of those that are around you.

I have a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for the opportunity that we have to learn how to love like our Savior, the opportunity we have to repent, to use the atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives. I testify to you that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides to us the opportunities to make and keep eternal covenants, to make eternal families, and to ensure that the legacy that we leave is one of love and righteousness and one that is eternal.

I share that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.