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“Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea”

First let me say to you, my beloved campus ohana: Aloha! How I love you! I hope that you can feel my love and aloha across an ocean and around the world. Susan and I shall miss you very much!

Thank you Elder Holland for inviting me to say a few words of farewell. You have been a role model and mentor during my whole career. I don’t know if you remember but you counseled with me 40 years ago as I was about to launch my career and wondering whether to teach Institute or English. How fitting to be by your side as I end my academic career and put into harbor.

I am so excited to welcome Keoni Kauwe to the helm of the good ship BYU–Hawaii. When I heard about Keoni’s appointment, I felt a powerful confirmation of the choice. We don’t sustain university presidents by raising our hands, but let me raise my voice to sustain Keoni and to welcome Monica and the Kauwe children on a great new adventure. I knew of Keoni’s fine reputation as an able dean, generous student mentor, and brilliant young research scientist who studies Alzheimer’s disease, and have learned more about his sterling personal qualities since his appointment. My only regret as he assumes this new role is that now he may not have time to find a cure to Alzheimer’s disease before I need it! But maybe it’s already too late for that!

I am particularly excited that one of Hawaii’s native sons will serve as president—a kama’aina from Molokai. There is a special joy that families feel when they welcome home one of their own. And speaking of home, Susan and I are pleased that the president’s home will soon fulfill the measure of its creation by having children occupying every bedroom, playing on the swings, and shooting hoops.

It has been five years to the day since my appointment as president was announced. On May 12, 2015, Susan and I first felt enveloped by your warm aloha and welcomed into the BYU–Hawaii ohana. These have been sweet years, wonderful years for us. We have come to love you and the University more and more with each passing year.

I extend my appreciation to the Board of Trustees for entrusting me with the presidency of BYU–Hawaii. I have tried to honor and deserve the trust of our trustees and shall miss my regular association with the board and with Elder Johnson and his associates.

I am grateful to the colleagues I have served with on the Presidents Council. Thank you. And to all of you who do the day-to-day work of the university. I also express my love for the students, alumni, community, and donors.

This is a poignant moment for me as I shall be leaving the academy after almost forty years as an educator. To my surprise, during almost thirty of those years I have held some sort of administrative assignment, none of which I have sought but all of which I have tried to fulfill as best I could out of love for now two BYU’s and the Church. Although I have tried to emphasize the “minister” in “administer,” the role of administrator has never felt like a perfect fit. As I come to the end of my journey in the academy, I confess that I disembark with the heart of a teacher and a preacher. I feel more alive and more able to give my gifts in the classroom, at the pulpit, and on the page than in producing budgets, agendas, policies, and memos. I suppose that this is why I often communicate through essays and talks. I hope to find a way to leave some of these with you as a record of our journey together and perhaps a comfort and inspiration as you continue the voyage.

In my talks and essays I regularly refer to mission. This is because the mission of our Church universities and the Church Educational System is what most engages my heart, mind, and soul. I am, by nature, a vision guy. I resonate with a quote that I first heard from President Kimball: “Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man in the desert of waters, you choose them as your guide.”[i]

Like the navigators of Polynesian voyaging canoes, I have tried to steer by the stars. That’s why I’ve spoken so often about BYU–Hawaii’s founding vision and prophetic destiny. I used the idea of “Zion” as a shorthand way of referring to the dreams that launched us and the aspirations that propel us onward, not because I ever expected to dock in a harbor called Zion but because I believe we are better for steering toward it as a lodestar on the horizon.

As I reflect back at our voyage together, I recognize that there has been some tacking back and forth on my part as I tried to find true north. Thank you for your patience. As your navigator, I have often recalled a prayer that President John F. Kennedy kept on his desk: “O, God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” When we have sailed aright, it has only been with God’s help.

Now, after all these years of trying to steer by the stars, I come to my journey’s end a president and professor. This is my last port of call as an educator. “Home is the sailor, home from the sea.”[ii] I leave confident that BYU–Hawaii will sail on, ably guided by a new helmsman who takes the helm at a difficult time when the University is sailing in uncharted waters. Please be patient with him as he learns the ropes. He will prove to be a remarkable captain. I am also confident that the Church Educational System will sail on through sunshine and storm, steadily guided on its charted course, as ever, by prophets of God.

I am not exactly sure what comes next for me as I prepare to step on the shore. There are still so many things I want to learn and write and do. So many people I need to love and serve. I expect that there will be new horizons and journeys. But the most important journey we take is never traced by the arc of our professional lives. The journey that matters most—no, that matters all—is the journey of discipleship. This is the true quest of a lifetime: to seek for grace in the common roles and tasks of life; to be a good husband, father, friend, neighbor, disciple. Only saints ever master the daily tides that bear us to a heavenly haven “out of the swing of the sea”[iii]—and then only with the help of one who calmed the sea and walked the water.

Whatever the future holds, Susan and I shall never forget and always be grateful for our voyage with you. In this era of pandemic, we will probably not be giving you farewell embraces. So I may offer a virtual hug and say with a heart full of love, mahalo, aloha ‘oe, and a hui hou.

[i] Carl Schurz, quoted by President Spencer W. Kimball in BYU’s “Second Century Address.”
[ii] “Requiem,” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
[iii] “Heaven-Haven,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.