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Learning and Living by Principles

Monica S. Kauwe

President Kauwe and I are excited to talk to you today. We love you, and we can’t wait for the time when we can meet and talk with you one on one. These are challenging times. It’s hard that we can’t be together. We have met some of you but are excitedly looking forward to meeting ALL of you. This campus is special. The spirit is here, and we are grateful to be a part of this great University.

This pandemic has come with many challenges. One of my challenges has been helping four children with online school while keeping our two-year-old out of trouble. Online school has been really tough for us, and I know it presents unique circumstances for each of you. I want you to know that I understand some of those demands you are facing, and I pray for your success daily.

Keoni and I have discussed this devotional for several weeks. We felt prompted to talk about principles and how a strong understanding of principles leads to great blessings. God’s people are governed by principles. When Christ was on the earth, he taught through principles rather than rules.

In John 5, the story of Jesus healing a man is recounted. Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath, and as the man carried his bed off the street, the Jews’ response to hearing of this miracle is to say, “It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed” (John 5:10). The Jews inquire more and find that Jesus healed this man on the sabbath. In verse 16, we learn that “therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.” Jesus’s reply to their attacks was to teach a simple principle, “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17).

The rules of the sabbath day in the law of Moses were detailed and complex. The leadership of the Jews made them even more complex and restrictive. And in the process, they lost sight of the principles entirely. Rules have a purpose. They can guide and protect us while we learn to live by the principles that will keep us safe and happy. But our goal must be to learn and live by the principles that underly the rules.

In Matthew 22:35-40, we read about another exchange between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews:

"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

In verse 40, Jesus teaches us the significance of these two principles:

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Following the commandments or “rules” helps us gain a deeper understanding of the principles. And if we continuously strive to live by the righteous principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can be filled with the light of Christ. We can have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. What a gift that is. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I know He loves us all. I know all He wants is for us to return to live with Him and our Father in Heaven. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

John S.K. Kauwe III

Welcome to a fall semester that is unlike any other in the history of this University! I am certain it will be challenging, but I have confidence that we will be successful and learn and grow in novel ways.

I want to begin by thanking each of you. I am deeply grateful for the support we have felt in moving here. We have felt welcome in every way. I am also grateful for so many who reached out to me to express condolences in the recent loss of my father. Many of you have experienced a similar loss and know how difficult it is. You also know how important the love, support, and testimony of others is to the grieving process. Thank you.

I want to express my love for you and my sympathy for the challenges each of you are facing this semester. Finally, I want you to know that our Board of Trustees loves you too. In every meeting I have with them, I’m amazed by their singular focus on your success and well-being. They truly desire to serve you and provide you with the best opportunities to be successful and happy.

I want to thank the faculty and staff who joined us for our recent All Employee meeting with Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President. We were blessed to hear an important message about love and belonging for our students. During the meeting, President Cordon asked our faculty and staff to provide two or three words that describe our students.

This word cloud shows the love and respect that our faculty and staff have for you, the students here at BYU–Hawaii. I am grateful to be part of a university community that cares so deeply about their students and holds them in such high esteem.

In an address to the LDS Educators Association in July 2017, Brother Tad R. Callister, at that time the Sunday School General President, said,

“First, what are principles? I believe principles are eternal truths that are condensed and framed in such a way as to promote our maximum agency, thus making possible our maximum growth [i] .”

This semester’s unique circumstances create a clear emphasis on the importance of principles in governing our lives and actions.

Elder Richard G. Scott taught: “As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to communicate or explain them. Principles are encapsulated knowledge, packaged to be applicable to a wide variety of circumstances. It is worth great labor to reduce information we gather to succinct statements of principle. [ii] ”

When standard practices and rules are disrupted, we are forced to use “those succinct statements of principle” to guide our adjustments to these challenges. On a daily basis, our faculty and staff are making adjustments to their day-to-day responsibilities but holding true to our focus on the secular and spiritual education of our students. Today, I want to talk about some core principles that relate to learning and to adherence to the gospel and university standards in these times that are so different from our recent past.

In a BYU devotional from October 16, 2018, Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared a story about an experience where the things he learned in his college years were important many years later.

He said:

“Daily I am grateful for things I learned and experienced at BYU—sometimes years ago. I could not have imagined then, until I have needed them now, how valuable and significant formative BYU lessons and experiences can be.

Here is an example. On a recent flight from Salt Lake City to New York City, my seat assignment was changed at the last moment—in this case, perhaps not without purpose.

I asked my new seat companion if she was traveling to New York or Milan, the plane’s final destination. The question opened a conversation. After explaining she had spent her life as a bilingual, bicultural Italian-English translator, she began quizzing me about Italian art and culture.

As she queried me about Michelangelo, I remembered a BYU humanities class with Professor Todd A. Britsch. I was able to say that in Michelangelo’s statue Pietà, the same piece of Carrara marble feels alive and lifeless at the same time. Mary is alive with compassion while the body of her son, our Savior, hangs lifeless.

My airplane companion nodded approvingly. We then talked about the Sistine Chapel, where God’s vibrant hand touches Adam’s limp hand, and about Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper in Milan.

Then we talked about Dante. After studying Shakespeare for five years in London, she thought Shakespeare might approximate Dante’s genius and accomplishment. What did I think?

I remembered BYU classes on Shakespeare with Professor Arthur Henry King and others, but I diplomatically suggested both Shakespeare and Dante were great literary figures.

Then something unexpected happened. Seemingly out of the blue, this good woman quietly asked, “You want to know how my son died, don’t you?”

We had been discussing Italian art and ­literature—her language of love. I am an amateur in that language, but perhaps because I was willing to try to listen with my heart, she felt she could say, “My son committed suicide. I am going to Italy to make arrangements.” She then added, “I feel you are a man of God. God put you here today because I have no one I can talk to about these things.”

For the rest of the flight we spoke tenderly about God’s plan of happiness, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and how families can be together forever. I testified of ordinances and covenants found in the holy house of the Lord and invited her to visit the Manhattan New York Temple or, someday, the Rome Italy Temple [iii] .”

This story struck me because it was in stark contrast to what I gained from my experience as a young college student. As I listened to Elder Gong tell this story, I reflected on my college years, with some regret.

I was an excellent high school student—straight A’s, valedictorian, with great test scores. I was involved in leadership and service, and I really had that high school thing figured out. Despite that success, my first semesters at BYU were a struggle. I was focused just on getting good grades, but that didn’t seem to be enough, and things did not turn out the way I had hoped.

I didn’t have the right skills, habits, or motivation to do well. When I did poorly on an exam or assignment, I felt discouraged. I felt like all was lost, and my chance of getting an “A” was gone. Once that happened, I wouldn’t do too much more work in the course because it was a lost cause.

At one point, I did poorly on the first exam in my organic chemistry class and then gave up. I received a “D” grade for the semester. Sadly, I also felt motivated at times to do my work in ways that fulfilled the requirements but didn’t result in any learning whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, the result was that I learned and remembered very little from my schooling even when I did ok in a course.

Unlike Elder Gong, who felt blessed and grateful for the knowledge he obtained in his undergraduate courses, I felt regret when my future experiences took me to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Louvre in Paris, and other important cultural and historical sites around the world. Due to my own shortcomings and lack of effort, I was not equipped with the knowledge to appreciate them.

Later, in my time as an undergraduate and as a young graduate student, I began to realize that I had to master the content so I could use it for my career. I realized I didn’t need grades, I needed knowledge. Slowly I progressed to the point that I began to understand that the principle of obtaining knowledge was far more important than the “rules” associated with getting good grades.

Learning and practicing the principle of obtaining knowledge changed my life.

When I learned with the principle of obtaining knowledge as my motivation, my approach was different. I understood the value of every course. I wasn’t as discouraged when I performed subpar on something. I just kept trying to master the content and obtain knowledge. I enjoyed school immensely, and I felt an increase in my capacity and confidence with each passing semester. And it turns out when you master the content for a class and make it your own knowledge, exams go a lot better. I quickly became a straight “A” student!

In the address I referenced previously, Brother Callister also said, “Rules, on the other hand are usually more prescriptive and thus, to a degree, may restrict our agency and thus restrict our growth. Rules can be good at times, however, especially when they are a means, not an end—when they become a stepping-stone to eventually living by principles—when, like the law of Moses, they are a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24).”

The rules associated with grading kept me aligned with the principle of obtaining knowledge when I didn’t yet understand it. Over time, they helped me understand the principle and see its value. When I learned and practiced the principle of obtaining knowledge, the rules associated with getting good grades were naturally easy to follow, and that resulted in the straight “A’s” that were important to my academic progression.

Obtaining knowledge, both spiritual and secular, is an important principle of the gospel. I didn’t completely grasp that as a young man, but the Lord is clear in his desire for us. In D&C 88:78-79, He says, ”Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”

Today, I am still working to master this principle. Just what I have learned and practiced so far has led to significant personal growth. The lessons I have learned about obtaining knowledge in that part of my life have transferred seamlessly to other settings and allowed me to progress and to be confident in myself as I face new challenges.

I encourage each of you to consider your approach to learning and find a way to emphasize the principle of obtaining knowledge. I am certain that the result will be more joy in your educational pursuits AND fantastic grades!

I have had similar experiences with learning the principles associated with the commandments. In my professional life, I often find myself at meals or social settings where alcohol is not only served but is the center of the event. The vast majority of my colleagues know that my faith prohibits consuming alcohol. On numerous occasions, my colleagues have stepped in for me and said, “Keoni is a “Mormon.” He can’t drink.”

When that happened, I’d smile and agree, sharing that I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I found myself revisiting those situations in my mind and feeling just a bit uneasy about the exchange. After considering the situation carefully, I realized that the source of my discomfort was that I felt like I was giving people the idea that I was just blindly following a rule.

The next time that situation arose, I changed my response. I said, “Actually, I can drink - any member of my church CAN. I believe that God has provided me with guidelines for my life, and I believe that my obedience to those guidelines brings happiness to me and my family. So, I choose not to drink.”

The rule here is “Do not consume alcohol,” but the principle is that making and honoring our covenants and following the direction of our living prophets brings us happiness in this life and the next. Prioritizing that principle makes adherence to the Word of Wisdom and its prescribed guidelines an important part of our lives- It makes it something we would do regardless of pressures or punishments that we generally associate with a rule.

So, it is with the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming Standards. The standards are clear. If you are a BYU–Hawaii student or employee, you should be following these standards, wherever you are around the world. The principle is also clear. We have committed to live by these standards at all times and in all places. As people who value the principle of integrity, we choose to uphold those standards to which we have committed.

Brother Tad Callister shared similar thoughts related to the principles associated with repentance. He said: “Worthiness is not determined by time or by a five-step or seven-step process based on a set of rules. Rather, worthiness is determined by the state of one’s heart. Repentance is not a checklist; rather it is turning our hearts and minds towards God until we, like the people of King Benjamin’s day, “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Suffice it to say, repentance is principle based, not rule driven.”

BYU–Hawaii is a unique and wonderful place and community. When we are together, we are able to support each other effectively in learning and practicing these important principles. In this time when we are not able to be here together, it is vital that you embrace the principle of obtaining knowledge and take ownership of your educational experience. We cannot be successful in any endeavor to develop spiritually without the companionship of the Holy Ghost that comes through practicing the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I implore you to live by the principles of integrity and honor, all the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Living by these principles will provide you with the capacity to overcome the unique challenges you face this coming semester. This will allow you to bring the Spirit of the Lord to your home and to your community.

I testify to you that your Heavenly Father loves you. He has prepared a way to welcome you back to His kingdom. The gospel of Jesus Christ is restored to this earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His Church. President Russell M. Nelson leads this church. He, along with the other leaders of this church, are men and women with a sincere desire to serve all of our Heavenly Father’s children. We will be blessed as we live the principles of the gospel and honor our covenants. I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[i] Tad R. Callister, “The Power of Principles,” Religious Educator Vol. 19 No. 2, 2018

[ii] Richard G. Scott, “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” (Brigham Young University devotional, Aug. 17, 1993),

[iii] Gerrit W. Gong, “We Seek After These Things" (Brigham Young University devotional, October 16, 2018),