That solemn religious commentator in the bible known only as Ecclesiastes once wrote, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; . . . A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; . . . A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”[i]
That ancient preacher could certainly have been writing of today. We find ourselves gathered virtually (around individual computers and any other device we can find) to weep and to laugh, as we plant and pluck up that which is planted. In a time over which the COVID-19 pandemic has cast its shadow, we must, sadly but of necessity, “refrain from embracing” as Ecclesiastes counseled, even though embracing and a few kisses are exactly what the aloha spirit calls for. We are celebrating in isolation what should be enjoyed in a great festive gathering for one of the most important days in an institution’s history—saying farewell to a beloved university president and his perfect participating wife and welcoming with anticipation and applause his successor with his equally perfect spouse. Furthermore, in today’s case, we also get to welcome five beautiful children who will add life, love and laughter to a campus already famous for those qualities.
Yes, by every standard imaginable this is one of those special “seasons” Ecclesiastes spoke of, a “time” marked in capital letters in which the “purposes of heaven” are being fulfilled, whether we hear today’s announcement individually or as a vast BYU–Hawaii audience carefully spaced six feet apart across the whole earth. And yes, it is a time for tears of both sorrow and joy as we “pluck up” a couple who have been so loved by us all and “plant” a new leader who, with his devoted wife, has been called of God and prepared from his childhood upward to continue the miracle that we call Brigham Young University–Hawaii.
The Officers and Board of Trustees of BYU–Hawaii have extended their heartfelt vote of thanks and conveyed a much deserved letter of release to John and Susan Tanner for their remarkable years of service at the university, service rendered not only in Laie but also throughout Hawaii and on into the broad expanse of the Pacific, even unto the Asian Rim. Both of the Tanners came to this assignment with ancestral ties to the islands and both have added to the legacy of devotion for which their forefathers were known here. From the first hour of his appointment exactly five years ago today, President Tanner has brought spiritual literacy (or perhaps it is better phrased as literate spirituality) to his position. We are grateful for his industry, his loyalty, his religious faith, and his academic vision. We will miss both John and Susan very much. At some point we all will gather to sing “Aloha oe” to them.
And true to the deliverance God always provides for his people, heaven has cast a divine shaft of light on John S.K. Kauwue, III, better known as Keoni. That shaft of light has led his servants to find him, to get better acquainted with him, and to extend to him the call to be the next president of Brigham Young University–Hawaii. As noted, his beloved Monica is every bit his equal in her faith, her exemplary Latter-day Saint life, and her (I should say “their”) inordinate love for Hawaii. Even with a very busy academic life, currently as Dean of Graduate Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo and one of the nation’s leading research scholars studying the ubiquitous Alzheimer’s disease that seems to be waiting for all of us, Keoni and his family have returned to Hawaii frequently—almost annually over the past ten years—to renew their family ties and bonds of aloha affection for their heritage in these islands.
Monica Mortensen Kauwe was born and raised in Provo, Utah, and is an outstanding woman in her own right. Keoni was raised in Utah and Hawaii, ultimately graduating from Molokai High School early and then enrolling in and graduating from Brigham Young University in Provo at age 19. A mission to the Japan Fukuoka Mission followed and thus his tie to the diaspora that BYU–Hawaii serves was virtually complete before he ever dreamed of presiding there.
But perhaps entirely unique in the history of any former (or perhaps any future) president of this university is the fact that President Kauwe’s fourth great-grandfather is the legendary Kaleohano who, with Johathan Napela were the two most famous and certainly most influential native converts to join the Church at the hand of then new missionary on the island of Maui, Elder George Q. Cannon. Kaleohano served with remarkable faith and tenacity for 45 unbroken years, from March of 1851 when he was baptized by Brother Cannon to March of 1896 when he passed away as a “stake” missionary. It was recorded of him that “he served countless missions to every island and sired a family whose descendants are still numbered among the Sandwich Island Saints.”[ii] One of those descendants makes history today by becoming the eleventh president of Brigham Young University–Hawaii. It is most fitting that Kaleohano’s grave is this very hour located on the hillside near the temple president’s home in Laie, a fitting place for one so faithful who gave his all for the kingdom of God in Hawaii and today continues that offering in the form of his very gifted fourth great grandson, John S.K. “Keoni” Kauwe, III.
May I just say on a personal note that surely somewhere on the other side of the veil today President David O. McKay is reminiscing with Ruben Law, Wendell Mendenhall, and others, saying, “I told you there were young men and women in those islands who would rise to the top of their professions if we gave them a chance for an education. I was right and there stands Keoni Kauwe to prove it.” Perhaps President McKay imagined that one of the youths of Hawaii would become president of the college in Laie. That famous flag raising ceremony on the campus that we still celebrate was conducted by President McKay 100 years ago next year. To help celebrate what will be a full century of educational vision in and for the islands will be a new, young president and his wife for whom Hawaii is home and always will be. “God moves in . . . mysterious way[s], his wonders to perform.”[iii] To help perform some of them he has brought a native son back to the very origins of the restored Church in the Pacific. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”[iv] What a wonderful time and season we usher in today at BYU–Hawaii. We wish both the Tanners and the Kauwes God’s speed in the next chapters of their respective lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Ecclesiastes 3:1-5.
[iii] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”
[iv] Ecclesiastes 3:1.