Thank you, Elder Holland, Elder Christofferson, and Elder Gilbert. I am deeply grateful to you and to the rest of the board of trustees for your confidence and support. I am grateful that this campus operates with divine guidance through living prophets. Uncle Cy Bridges, Dean Tēvita Ka‘ili, Savaira Veikoso, and Justina Tevana, mahalo to each of you for the kind welcome.
Monica and I have been working together to lead this university and our family for 15 months. I love her, and I never cease to be amazed at her example of faith and sacrifice. I am thankful to be sealed to her for eternity. Monica and I are grateful for every minute that we have been given to serve in this capacity. We would happily spend the rest of our days serving the students of BYU–Hawaii. We love Laie, we love BYU–Hawaii, and we love our students.
The Lord’s Vineyard
Moving back here and working here has been a true dream come true for me. But there are a few things I really miss from Utah. One of them is our homegrown blackberries. For the last decade, Monica and I have grown blackberries in our yard. We carefully selected varieties that grew well in the climate of Utah. They were thornless and tasted fantastic. We planted the starts in a location with proper exposure to the sun, access to water, and protection from stray soccer balls. We learned and implemented the best practices for nourishment and pruning. It took a few years, but the blackberries grew to be delicious. In one recent summer, the bushes produced over 50 gallons of fruit. We ate blackberries every day for weeks. We shared them with all of our neighbors.
Unfortunately, blackberries do not grow well in Laie. Perhaps it would be possible to grow them, but even with all of our knowledge and experience, it is unlikely that we would ever enjoy blackberries the way we did in Utah. They simply require a different climate. Knowing this, it would be a waste of time and resources to focus on growing blackberries in Hawaii.
Fortunately, there are many fruits from all over the world that can’t be grown in Utah but that thrive here. Have you ever had a perfect tree-ripened mango? They are fantastic! Have you ever seen me on the roof of my house picking mangoes? How about liliko‘i? Guava? Papaya? Pineapple? So ono. Lucky we live Hawaii!
We are fortunate to live and labor in this special part of the Lord’s vineyard. The gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church have spread throughout the world. The Lord’s vineyard is larger and covers more diverse circumstances than it ever has before. He has given the Church Educational System a special role in caring for the vineyard. We are charged to build up young Latter-day Saints who are still developing and strengthening themselves in secular and spiritual things. Each institution in the Church Educational System represents a different part of the vineyard, and each requires special consideration and care. Students and programs that thrive here in Laie may not succeed so readily in Provo or Rexburg. Likewise, students and programs that are thriving in those places may not do so here in Laie.
In the Book of Mormon we learn of the allegory of the wild olive trees, as told by the prophet Zenos. In that allegory, the master of the vineyard cared for an olive tree. It states that “he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word” (Jacob 5:5).
In a like manner, BYU–Hawaii has been cared for by past presidents, employees, and students. There have been seasons of preparation and growth (think nourishment), seasons of difficult change (think pruning), and seasons of recovery from serious challenges (think digging about). Today marks a unique opportunity to celebrate this special part of the Master’s vineyard and consider what we can do to ensure that it thrives under our stewardship.
The University Mission
BYU–Hawaii was established in response to revelation given directly to the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The groundbreaking and dedicatory service in 1955 formally launched the fulfillment of that revelation. At that service, President David O. McKay said:
My esteemed fellow workers, brothers, and sisters: This is the beginning of the realization of a vision I saw thirty-four years ago when one morning . . . I witnessed a flag-raising ceremony by students of the Church school here in Hawaii in Laie.
There we met as members of the Church of Jesus Christ: Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino—all the races represented on this island. There we met as one—members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. What an example in this little place of the purpose of our Father in Heaven to unite all peoples by the gospel of Jesus Christ.1
Several years later, President Marion G. Romney expanded on this concept, teaching us:
This college is a living laboratory in which individuals . . . 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 large scale if we are ever to have real brotherhood on this earth.2
In 2011, President Russell M. Nelson spoke of the future of BYU–Hawaii graduates, saying:
If you are true and faithful, . . . you will be anchored to eternal truth. You, your families, and your homes will become beacons of hope in a darkened world. You will be seen as citadels of stability wherever you live. Your faith and optimism will make you leaders in your communities, in your countries, and in the kingdom of God on earth.3
These statements describe a mission that is well beyond worldly standards of education. Our mission is to be and to build people who follow the example of Jesus Christ—people who are an example of unity, appreciation, esteem, and love for one another. Those associated with BYU–Hawaii in the past, present, and future all carry the sacred responsibility to bring these prophetic statements to pass. We are blessed to be called to this work—to gather the children of Israel, to unify them as covenant people of the Lord here in Laie, and to prepare them to build and lead the kingdom of God in the Pacific Islands and Asia.
Our educational mission
is to integrate both spiritual and secular learning and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.4
Like all universities, to accomplish our mission we must enroll students and provide them with curriculum and training experiences. Unlike other universities, however, we have specific direction from God, through His prophets, about how we should accomplish these tasks.
The Right Students
First, we need the right students. President Romney said, “The mission of this college is to serve members of the Church in Polynesia and, just as important, members from along the east rim of Asia.”5 He continued: “I hope and pray that . . . the students who come here will do so in order to prepare themselves to serve.”6
The prophetic direction is clear. BYU–Hawaii exists to serve a specific population—students from the Pacific Islands and Asia—as well as students who are concerned with improving the lives of those around them and serving others. When he addressed our graduates in 2011, President Nelson also said:
When you serve your fellow men and women, you serve God and help to establish His Church in those lands where you live. You will be the Relief Society leaders and the priesthood leaders of the future.7
When we serve the students we have been directed to serve, they will lift and build the Church and their communities in the Pacific Islands and Asia. Their impact for good will spread across the globe and be felt for generations. In the last year we have made significant changes to direct our resources and efforts toward finding and serving these students. Together, we will continue this work.
The Right Experiences
President Romney also taught us about what our students should learn and experience. He instructed us to be “concerned about the content of what is taught here in terms of its specific practical value to the students and to the cultures of the Pacific Basin.”8 Then he taught that “this college cannot fulfill its purpose if . . . it doesn’t take into account in its curriculum the added and special needs of the cultures that its faculty and students both represent.”9
These prophetic statements make it clear that this university must offer programs and experiences that are specifically developed to serve the students and the people of the Pacific Islands and Asia. This prophetic direction applies not only to what we do offer but also to what we do not offer. In the last year we have made significant progress in refining our academic and student life programs to better align with this direction. Together, we will continue this work.
The Right Foundation
In 1973, President Romney described part of campus, saying, “It is beautiful without being elaborate; it is functional without being drab.” He continued: “We hope . . . that you will treat this facility carefully and appreciatively and use it with a sense of gratitude.”10
Many of the buildings we use daily are more than six decades old. They have served us well, and we treat them with care and use them with a sense of gratitude. When the time comes for new buildings to take their place, we will use the best knowledge and experience available to continue President Romney’s vision in building and maintaining beautiful and functional facilities. Efforts to address urgent needs across campus are progressing quickly. Together, we will continue this work.
President Romney also said:
This is one of the few campuses in the world . . . where a governing board . . . is concerned not with enrolling large numbers of students but rather with carrying out the special educational mission assigned to such institutions.
. . . We must seek efficiency in the use of tithing dollars and increase the effectiveness of the educational purposes here on this campus.11
BYU–Hawaii is a small school, and Laie is a remote area with limited resources. But we can find ways to serve more students. We can find ways to magnify our influence on the world. Our relationships with BYU–Pathway Worldwide and BYU–Idaho will help us get more students here and allow them to graduate with less time on campus. Our expanded and extended internship programs will do the same.
The Polynesian Cultural Center, the Cannon Activities Center, and the agricultural lands that surround us create unique and wonderful learning environments. In the last year, we have made significant progress in leveraging these learning environments to train our students better and more efficiently. Together, we will continue this work.
Efficiency here will likely not take the form it does at many other institutions. Our mission is different. At BYU–Hawaii, efficiency will be achieved by delivering better outcomes for our students. The most important outcomes of a BYU–Hawaii education were shared with Monica and me by President Nelson the day he asked us to accept this role. He instructed us that our success would be measured by “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:6). Obtaining these outcomes will leave no doubt that every dollar and every ounce of effort spent on this university were well spent. Together, we will continue this work.
Like President John S. Tanner before me, I have seen the image of Zion itself in this school. The Lord has chosen this place and taught us that “the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6).
President McKay dedicated this university to “become a missionary factor, influencing not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people who will come seeking to know what this town and its significance are.”12
The highest aspiration of our prophetic founders—the very will of God—is that this university will be a true place of Zion, a refuge for our students, a defense for this community, and a missionary factor to influence millions of people and thereby support the salvation of the children of men. It is a privilege and an honor be part of BYU–Hawaii. I urge you to prayerfully ponder how you can fulfill your role in this important effort. Together, we will continue this work—and we will succeed.
Just as President McKay knew, those who come here will also know “the things pertaining to God and His kingdom.” They will have “a testimony of the existence of Deity.” They will “[know] that He lives and that He is our Father, the Father of all mankind.” They will commit themselves to “establishing peace in the world.”13
I testify to you that this university is a vital part of God’s work on this earth. He has established it through His prophets to educate His children and to help them make and keep sacred covenants. Through honoring those covenants, we learn more of our Savior, we grow closer to Him, and we become more like Him. I know that Jesus Christ lives and that He is our Savior. I testify to you that His example is perfect, that His love is limitless, that His Atonement is infinite. Our service at this university is part of His work and His glory.
Together, we must continue His work.
I share this testimony, and my unwavering commitment to serving Him and each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. David O. McKay, “Church College of Hawaii Groundbreaking Address and Prayer,” 12 February 1955, in Something Wonderful: Brigham Young University–Hawaii Foundational Speeches (Laie: BYU–Hawaii, 2012), 9.
2. Marion G. Romney, “Aloha Center Dedicatory Address and Prayer,” 26 January 1973, in Something Wonderful, 42.
3. Russell M. Nelson, “Visions Past, Present, and Future,” BYU–Hawaii commencement address, 9 April 2011.
5. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 41.
6. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 44.
7. Nelson, “Visions.”
8. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 42.
9. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 42.
10. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 40.
11. Romney, “Aloha Center,” in Something Wonderful, 41–42.
12. McKay, “Church College,” in Something Wonderful, 15.
13. McKay, “Church College,” in Something Wonderful, 12.