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Koau ‘Eni: It Is Me. I Am Here.

Students, faculty, university ohana: Aloha.

Heeding the Call

In English, when someone calls out to you, there are several appropriate responses. For a formal response, you can say, “Yes.” For a more casual response, you can say, “What,” or “Uh-huh.” In Spanish, the language of my mission, you can say “Si,” meaning “Yes,” or “Como,” meaning “What.” In French, the language I studied in college, an appropriate response is “Oui,” also meaning “Yes.”

I have always been intrigued with the response in the Tongan language, the language of my ethnic heritage, the language of my fathers. When you are called, the response in Tongan is “Koau ‘eni.”

Literally translated, this means “It is me” or “I am here.” It’s a statement both of identification and location. It is a recognition of who you are, and in the Polynesian culture, that means whom you come from. And as far as location, I like to think that when you say, “Koau ‘eni,” you’re not just reporting your physical whereabouts, you are also confirming that you are actually present.

Students, faculty, campus ohana, today my message is that your family, your community, your people, your profession, and your God will call on you. They will call on you to teach, to lead, to fill a vacancy, to represent, and to guide. When that call comes to you, when you are beckoned, because you are here at BYU–Hawaii, gaining an education and providing an education and facilitating an education, you will be able to say, “Koau ‘eni. It’s me. I’m here. I can do it.”

“For I will go before your face.” D&C 84:88

Greg Tivles is from the beautiful islands of Vanuatu. He is the oldest in his family of 4 children. He was the first from his family to serve a mission, which he did in the Australia Brisbane Mission.

While on his mission, Greg met a senior missionary couple. They introduced him to the idea of attending BYU–Hawaii. Greg had never thought of attending college before. But their suggestion started in him a desire. A desire that grew and grew. Greg had no examples to follow. No one in his family, in his village, or even on his island had ever gone to college. Greg had no money to pursue an education. But the call came: “Pave the way, Greg. Be a pioneer. Don’t give in to doubt, don’t be afraid to make the sacrifices. Others will follow, but you’ve got to be the first one.” Greg heard the call. Greg felt the beckoning. With no one to lead the way for him, he increased his dedication to his studies. He worked three jobs and saved and saved until finally, he had earned the money to come to BYU–Hawaii.

In 2017, Greg became the first person from his family, from his village, and from his island to attend college. Today, he is one of only five students from Vanuatu at BYU–Hawaii. He is making way for others to follow him.

The Lord promised the young prophet Joseph and his fellow missionary companions: “I will be on your right hand and on your left.” -Doctrine and Covenants 84:88. His promise is the same to you as you answer this call to improve your lives as you walk courageously into the unknown and exercise faith. Are you the first person in your family and community to come to the US? Are you the first to be earning a university degree? Is it scary, and do you sometimes not know where to go? Take heart – ask for the Lord to strengthen you. Ask for Him to go before your face. He has promised that His “Spirit shall be in your hearts, and [His] angels round about you, to bear you up.” Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.

Gaining an education was only part of the blessings that the Lord had in store for Greg.

You see, the population of the Church is very small in Vanuatu. There is no temple, and the number of members is small. When Greg came to school in Laie, he was incredibly happy to be so close to the Laie temple. He took advantage of this blessing, and he has served as an ordinance worker ever since coming to BYU–Hawaii. As Greg’s testimony of and love for the temple grew, his thoughts always turned home to his family and his desire for them to share in the same blessings of the temple.

Can you even imagine Greg’s profound joy and overwhelming gratitude when on October 4, 2020, just eight months ago, President Nelson announced the building of the Port Vila Vanuatu Temple? Finally, Greg will have a temple in his home country. “Now that I have worked in the temple,” Greg enthusiastically explained, “I can return home and serve in my own temple with my family and friends.”

The Lord has far greater plans for you than you can imagine. It’s going to take courage and faith. Sometimes that will mean walking alone and walking first. Do it. Students, faculty, campus ohana. Take those first steps. Even if your voice is shaky, answer Koau ‘eni. It’s me. I’m here. I’ll do it.

For I am Slow of Speech

Let’s talk about another scenario—that of when you don’t feel up to the challenge. The Lord spoke to Enoch and gave him a charge. “Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people and say unto them—Repent…” Moses 6:27. Enoch had issues with this request, and he explained to the Lord: I “am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech;” Moses 6:31.

If you have ever thought: “I can’t do it, there’s someone better than me. She’s smarter. He’s better with people, on and on” then you know what Enoch was feeling. It’s the situation in which you won’t have the knowledge, and maybe you won’t have the skills. But the call to act and to give will come. And your choice is to either turn away from the invitation - or step up to the challenge.

Dean James Lee, Dean of the Faculty of Math & Computing, experienced this very thing.

In 2008, Dean Lee learned of the SAP University Alliances Program, which offered opportunities for students to become SAP certified. SAP is the largest business system in the world. A reported 60,000 companies, including many Fortune 500 companies use this business software program. Students who are trained and certified in SAP have an incredibly competitive advantage when entering the workplace. Because of its global usage, our international students who become certified are able to use this certification in their home countries. Beyond that, the certification gives all our students professional global mobility.

In 2008, BYU–Hawaii did not offer SAP certification. None of the CES institutions did. Many barriers stood in the way of providing such an offering. First, the price tag to hire someone to come to campus and offer the certification is $20,000 a week. This person teaches the course and then administers the certification exam. Alternatively, Dean Lee could learn the program himself, take the exam, and qualify to certify students.

“There were others who would have been more effective than me in implementing the SAP courses because they had real-world experience in it,” Dean Lee said. “All I had to offer was my knowledge that it would help our students and a determination to provide the training for them.” With this knowledge and dedication, Dean Lee undertook the task of becoming certified, and for three years, Dean Lee spent his summers studying the system, building a program, and refining it.

In the summer of 2011, Dean Lee traveled to the mainland to sit for the certification exam. He took it and passed. He returned to campus ready to offer SAP certification to our students.

With no extra compensation for his efforts, Dean Lee offered the training and certification as a summer course. Students enrolled in the program committed to a grueling two-week schedule of eight-hour days of in-class instruction and additional out-of-class group study and individual study. Every day, beginning at 8:00 am, Dean Lee and the students would open the class with prayer. “We would call down the powers of heaven,” Dean Lee said. “We knew that we needed divine assistance.” Dean Lee would then teach and mentor, and students would learn and work together. The schedule was demanding and exhausting as students learned this highly technical and complicated material. Mind you, this is a professional certification course, not a student certification course. For some students, having this certification has meant an increase of $10,000 in their starting pay when they entered the work field.

The summer of 2012 was the first group to take Dean Lee’s SAP certification course. It is of note that our own accounting professor, Tialei Scanlan, was among that first class of 24 students. She names her SAP-TERP10 certification as one of her distinguishing accomplishments.

Donating time, preparing lunches, and giving so much heart, Dean Lee has taught this course every summer since 2012. There have been summers in which the demand for the course was so great, Dean Lee has needed to offer two sessions. That means he has given four weeks of his summer to bless the lives of students.

This has continued for nearly ten years. To date, over 500 students have completed SAP-related courses. 350 students have participated in the summer certification course and sat for the exam. 309 BYU–Hawaii students have passed the SAP certification exam– an amazing feat by any measure, but even more remarkable when you consider that about 80% of those students are non-native English speakers. That means that our students are taking a highly technical exam in English and passing it at higher-than-national average rates.

BYU–Hawaii is still the only CES institution to offer SAP certification.

All because Dean Lee answered the call. “Teach us. We need this course. We need someone who will sacrifice, who will offer us this opportunity that will change our lives and afford us incredible employment opportunities.” Not feeling the most qualified for it, Dean Lee set aside his own self-doubt. Intending only to serve the Lord and help our students, Dean Lee answered: "Koau ‘eni. It's me. I'm here. I'll teach."

For Generations to Come

Elizabeth Ramsay Liongitau is from Vaini, a village on the island of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga. Elizabeth is the sixth of eight children and the only girl in her family.

Elizabeth did not like school. Her father, however, had a vision for Elizabeth that was different from the family business of farming or his profession of fishing. He wanted her to have a different life than the one that he had. He knew that if Elizabeth could earn an education, she could have a different and improved future. Elizabeth didn’t understand this at the time and was not motivated to do well in school. And so, her father bribed her with chips and other snacks as a reward for good scores in school.

This system of chips for good grades worked for Elizabeth.

As she continued in school, the cost of her education increased. In order to pay for her schooling, Elizabeth’s father would stay out even later than normal, working as a fisherman. The waters in this kind of deep-sea fishing are extremely cold, and fishermen are known to develop severe and painful physical effects later in life because of it.

One night, Elizabeth’s father came home from fishing. He was extremely cold and tired. He asked Elizabeth to make him a warm drink. Perplexed as to why he would work in such a physically challenging profession, Elizabeth asked her father, “Why do you go fishing? Why do you do something that is so cold and you work so late? You should just stay home and be warm.”

Her father explained: “I know that by working, you will have money to pay your tuition, money to eat lunch, and money to buy school supplies.”

Elizabeth realized that her education was coming at a great cost. This sobering realization motivated her to do her part to pay for her own schooling.

After primary school, Elizabeth attended Liahona High School, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. Elizabeth knew that if she had a cumulative score of 90 or higher, she would earn a scholarship to pay for all of her tuition. Elizabeth was determined to earn that scholarship. No more needing to be bribed to do well in school, Elizabeth earned that full-tuition scholarship every year that she attended Liahona High School.

Her dedication ultimately led to her graduating as valedictorian from Liahona High School.

Elizabeth applied to BYU–Hawaii, and in 2014, she became the first Pacific Area Scholar to attend BYU–Hawaii. The PAS award, as it is called, is awarded to students from the Pacific Area who demonstrate the highest academic performance and represent the top 5% of their graduating class. The PAS award provides a full scholarship to its recipients, covering the costs of tuition, housing, and textbooks.

Elizabeth maintained the academic requirements to retain the PAS award for all four years that she was a student at BYU–Hawaii.

She graduated in the spring of 2020 with a double major in Biology and Accounting, both extremely challenging majors. In the Fall 2020 Semester, Elizabeth became an adjunct professor in the accounting department.

Because of the gift of education that Elizabeth’s father gave her, she is now able to teach her fellow peers. Education has changed the trajectory of her life and, consequently, that of her son.

Elizabeth’s father passed away two months ago. Today, I am grateful to speak of him with reverence and to honor him and the gift that he gave his daughter. This gift of education will bless his family and our students for generations.

You see, this education that you’re earning is not only about you. It’s about those who will follow you. It’s about your peers, your children, and your children’s children, whose lives will be blessed because of the sacrifices you are currently making to be a student.

Elizabeth accepted the call to dedicate herself to the highest levels of academic achievement. By educating this one amazing student, hundreds, thousands of others will be educated. How many people will be blessed because of you? How many people will be enabled to improve their lives and the lives of their families for generations because of you? Find out by always readily answering: Koau ‘eni. I’m here, I’ll learn.

Leadership for Life

Now we come to you. What’s your story? What are you being asked to do? Why are you here at BYU–Hawaii? President David O. McKay said that this school is here because the world needs you. You, students, and professionals “who cannot be bought or sold…who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce. More than that, [you’ll] be leaders. Not leaders only in this island, but everywhere. All the world is hungering for [you] and best of all the world is recognizing [you].” David O. McKay, Groundbreaking & Dedication of CCH/BYU–Hawaii. February 12, 1955.

I am a child of poverty. I grew up in Utah valley and money always ran out before we had what we needed. Because of our lack of financial resources, my family went to the free community clinic to receive medical services. I was so embarrassed to go to there. It was located in downtown Provo, right next to the Marriott hotel and the 4th District Courthouse.

Well, fast forward, I grew up, went to college, went to law school, and graduated. I was accepted to a judicial clerkship with the Honorable Samuel D. McVey in the Utah 4th District Court. I was at the courthouse late one evening, up in the library doing research. I happened to turn and I glanced out the window. I stopped short. Down below on the street was the community health clinic that I had gone to as a little girl. It had been years since I had gone there. It hit me how different my world now was. I reflected on the fact that two of my sisters, now nurses, have returned as volunteers to that very clinic. I also had a humbling realization.

If I could talk to that embarrassed little girl getting free medical services, I would say: “You need to lift your chin and hold your head up. Because your time in this free clinic is a critical part of your journey. Your patronage in this clinic is going to give you passion and drive to volunteer at the legal aid clinics in Boston for people who can’t afford legal assistance. Don’t you waste any shame on this step in your journey because these experiences will enable you to be a compassionate advisor. What’s more, you will meet with hundreds of students. They will have dreams – big dreams – but they’ll get discouraged. There will be 9/11, an economic recession, and a global pandemic. Your students may lose hope and sight of their dreams. But because of the services that you are receiving today, you will be able to look your students in the eye and say – I have been the grateful recipient of services from someone who stayed in school. Someone who put in the time to become a doctor, a lawyer, an administrator. Do not curse any step of your journey. It is contouring you into an incredible leader and person.”

Do you have learning challenges? Do you have social anxieties? Do you struggle with weaknesses that sometimes feel insurmountable? That is your call, then. Right now, those circumstances are requiring you to answer. Answer with faith, with hard work, and with love. These challenges are critical to the leader you are now and the leader you are becoming. Your life is what makes you a great leader. Every experience and victory and failure – every class you have to work hard in and every professional challenge you face is a valuable part of your journey.

I have met with you incredible students: pre-covid, during covid, and now, as things take on a new normal. I am in awe of your resilience and your eagerness to live up to your potential.

I am inspired by you. Watching you adjust to a world that is changing in dramatic and permanent ways is a blessing.

You have everything you need so that as these requests come your way – when your personal trials demand your patience and hard work, when your loved ones call for your sacrifice and service, when places and events call for you to give and grow; when your family, your community when your God calls on you, you can say, “Koau ‘eni. It’s me. I’m here.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.