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The Value of Your Education is Immeasurable

Brothers and Sisters Aloha.

I want to thank my daughter, Sissy, for her introduction I also want to thank my wife for her unconditional love and devotion to myself and our children. She is the rock of our family, and I don't get to express to her enough, publicly, how much I love and appreciate her. So, honey, I love you. 

Sissy is our eldest daughter, and we are grateful for her tough and resilient spirit. We are especially grateful that she has chosen to attend BYU–Hawaii for her undergraduate studies. We know that for a long time her post high school goals included getting as far away from home as possible. We are so glad that she was able to put that goal aside in order to get her education here, which is in fact, as CLOSE to home as possible. We are so grateful that Sissy can appreciate the richness and blessings of this great university. For many who live near here, they may feel the need to leave home. We have learned that it is possible to leave home despite being so close. It was a joy for me and my wife to check Sissy into the hales this past September. Our new favorite tradition is catching up on Sundays with Sissy and our niece Eden, and sometimes their roommates, over dinner. We love hearing about their college adventures and how they are adjusting to college life. We get to hear about their classes, new foods and cutlery in the Banyan Dining Hall, and funny stories about their professors, to name a few things. It is great to hear that their time at BYU–Hawaii has already been a success. 

As Sissy stated, I am the budget director here at BYU–Hawaii and in my role as such I am aware of the financial costs and needs that are necessary to run this divine educational institution. I am also keenly aware of each dollar it takes to run what is considered a small university. In many ways BYU–Hawaii is an expensive school to run, however, the costs and profits of this university cannot be measured solely in dollars. There is no way to equate a monetary value of this institution which has provided immeasurable profits in the form of education, missionary work, increased faith and testimony, and the ability for thousands to go forth to serve hundreds of thousands all throughout the world. 

As stated in the mission and vision of BYU–Hawaii:

"The mission of BYU–Hawaii is to prepare students of Oceania and the Asian Rim to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God." [1]


Brigham Young University–Hawaii, founded by prophets and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, exists to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life and in their efforts to influence the establishment of peace internationally.

We seek to accomplish this by:

  1. Educating the minds and spirits of students within an intercultural, gospel-centered environment and curriculum that increase faith in God and the restored gospel, is intellectually enlarging, is character building, and leads to a life of learning and service.
  2. Preparing men and women with the intercultural and leadership skills necessary to promote world peace and international brotherhood, to address world problems, and to be a righteous influence in families, professions, civic responsibilities, social affiliations, and in the Church.
  3. Extending the blessings of learning to members of the Church, particularly in Oceania and the Asian Rim. 
  4. Developing friends for the university and the Church. 
  5. Maintaining a commitment to operational efficiency and continuous improvement.

We know and believe that this prophetic vision of BYU–Hawaii has and continues to fulfill the mission to build the kingdom of God on this earth, through education as well as bringing those who attend here closer to the Savior Jesus Christ. 

President David O, McKay once said:

“Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks, then, to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love — men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life.” [2]

It is through your time here at BYU–Hawaii that you will not only gain an education but hopefully sustain and even increase your true and noble character which you will take out into the world to build bridges amidst high waters. We know that through education we can be empowered to not only improve our own trajectories but to contribute to our communities and society as a whole. 

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith." [3]

Today I would like to focus my thoughts to you on my own personal journey, as well as the journey of a few others, of the value and impact that gaining an education at BYU–Hawaii has blessed us with. I hope that you can draw the connections and see how each story I share explicitly depicts the fulfillment of the mission and outcomes of this university. 

My Story

Like most of you, I can attribute and connect my life’s journey to those who came before me. I can see how their circumstances, sacrifices, and choices impacted me and my life.  In order for me to share about my experience here at BYU–Hawaii I would like to give you a little background knowledge about my upbringing and family’s history in Laie.

My maternal Great Grandma Ruby Freeman was raised in Sandy, Utah. She was hanai’d by her aunty, Augusta Winters, wife of President Heber J. Grant. She was hanai’d because her mother passed away at 38 years of age leaving behind nine children. My Great Grandma Ruby Freeman is the mother of my grandpa, Roscoe Sorensen. My Grandpa Sorensen was blessed to serve a mission in Hawaii from 1939-1941. It was during this time he first saw my Grandma, Caroline Hubbell. He saw her while she was dancing hula at the Royal Hawaiian when he and his companion were invited to eat there. He saw her again at church which I am sure left a lasting impression. Upon completion of his mission and returning home to Utah, my grandpa headed back to Hawaii where he was reconnected to my grandma and the two were eventually married. At this time, my grandpa began civilian work at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Not too many years later my grandparents were given the opportunity to buy land and settle in Laie with the early saints. They chose the area directly across from what is now the entrance to TVA and the faculty townhomes. Years later the Church College of Hawaii was established and my grandpa worked as a Groundskeeper until he retired. He also served as one of the first bishops in Laie and was a stake patriarch in his later days. Grandpa Sorensen was a known cowboy in Laie and ran the slaughterhouse which provided meat to the saints in the community. While neither of my grandparents attended what is now known as BYU–Hawaii - I truly believe that their commitment to the church and the college eventually led me to attend school here and return in the capacity in which I now serve.  I am grateful for my great grandmother and her sacrifices and teachings which I know led my grandpa to serve a mission in Hawaii which eventually led to him marrying my grandma and their family being raised in the Laie community. 

As my daughter stated, I was blessed to spend most of my formative years growing up in this very community. My family, like most local families, prioritized sports.  I share these pictures with you not because I want you to see all the sports I played or how cute I was, but rather to show how BYU–Hawaii has been an integral part of the Laie community for a very long time – as most of these pictures were taken here on campus.  My brothers and I grew up playing sports, but eventually I put all of my athletic endeavors into baseball.  I was blessed that my dad spent countless hours practicing with me in the batting cage. Although I was supposed to be working on my swing, I often felt like I was working on my takes, as the strike to wild pitch ratio was about 1:10.  Even though I didn’t know it at the time, it was during those hours in the batting cage that my dad taught me to work hard even when I didn’t feel like it.  He taught me patience and discipline and I learned to be coachable. It was through athletics that I developed the skills I needed to eventually graduate from college and enter the professional world outside of sports. Though my dream was to be a professional athlete, I was able to pivot and use the skills I gained and apply them to other disciplines. It was a surprise to myself and many others that after four years of playing in the minor leagues I chose to go back to college and get a degree in accounting. Returning to school can be a difficult transition with many barriers.  I am eternally grateful that when my wife and I decided to return to school we had the support of Brother Arapata Meha who was able to guide us in our return as non-traditional students. 

When we began our time as BYU–Hawaii students we were so happy to find out that our good friends Eric and Monique Tevaga would be our neighbors at TVA. It was through this friendship that led me to find my major. Eric, a childhood friend of mine, and former Kahuku football player, shared with me that he was a business major which led me to see what business was all about. The business major led me to an accounting class, which after taking, I felt strongly it was the major for me. I knew right away that accounting would be difficult and extremely new to me and although uncomfortable, I was motivated by this challenge. Early on in the major I met Professor Jennifer Chen who seemed to believe in my abilities, probably even more than myself. She encouraged me to become an accounting tutor and eventually to be the president of the accounting club, both of which I thought were completely out of my league and comfort zone. I am grateful for her confidence and encouragement in me to this day as it was critical to my success in my major. 

When our time at BYU–Hawaii wrapped up I had to consider what was next. I had the idea to attend graduate school and to attain a master's degree in accounting. However, there was one stumbling block for me, the GMAT. I studied and studied as best as I could, and despite my best efforts my GMAT score did not meet the minimum requirements for the universities of my choice. I did not get accepted to BYU in Provo or the University of Utah. In a twist of FATE and FAITH, a sister in our student ward, Saineha Reeves, heard about my aspirations and volunteered to speak to a cousin who had influence at the University of Utah about my predicament. She spoke to her cousin who then spoke to someone in charge in the accounting department at the University of Utah.  After a short interview I expressed how much it would mean to my family for me to be the first one to earn a master's degree. Upon their consideration, I was granted a conditional acceptance to the MACC program, despite my low GMAT scores. The condition was simple- I must successfully complete the program- which through study and faith, I did. After graduation I was offered jobs from two Big Four Accounting Firms - PricewaterhouseCoopers in Salt Lake City and Deloitte & Touche in Hawaii. Since then, the GMAT has been dropped from the requirements to the MACC program at the University of Utah. 

I hope that you can see that through my journey the Lord was there and prayers were always being answered.  While I gave my very best, the Lord did the rest and provided me with the guidance and support I needed through others. The road wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I had to overcome thoughts of not being smart enough or good enough at school. I had spent many years seeing myself as an athlete and not an academic.  

A quote that resonates with me and maybe some of you, from President Thomas S. Monson is, – “I hope that you are not afraid of tough classes. I never did have a ‘cinch’ class. … You simply have to apply yourself. I hope that you want to be so well equipped that you can compete in this competitive world. I hope that you will learn to take responsibility for your decisions, whether they be in your courses of study which you elect to take, or whether they be in the direction of the academic attainments which you strive to achieve....

"My young brothers and sisters, don’t take counsel of your fears. Don’t say to yourselves, ‘I’m not wise enough, or I can’t apply myself sufficiently well to study this difficult subject or in this difficult field, so I shall choose the easier way.’ I plead with you to tax your talent, and our Heavenly Father will make you equal to those decisions.” [4]

It was during my time here at BYU–Hawaii that I had to apply this very mentality and I can attest that the Lord truly does love effort and did make equal to my decisions. The education, experiences, and relationships we built while at BYU–Hawaii have proven to be invaluable and immeasurable in my family’s life. 

Mi Jeong Lee Testimony

Another story I would like to share is about our friend and neighbor at TVA, Mi Jeong Lee. She and her husband, Yoon Ha, and daughters, Han Sol, Han Bi, and Emma, were also our neighbors while living in TVA. Mi Jeong and Yoon Ha came from South Korea and took the giant leap of faith to move to Hawaii leaving behind family and friends, as well as employment. Mi Jeong and Yoon Ha would come to BYU–Hawaii and learn English as a second language, while being immersed in a new culture, and earning their bachelors’ degrees.  An accomplishment that is no small feat, and that many of you are familiar with. During their time at BYU–Hawaii we were fortunate to make many fond memories together. Our children enjoyed playing, while the husbands’ activity of choice was night diving, and last, but not least, we all enjoyed Mi Jeong’s incredible pastries and Korean pancakes.

Mi Jeong has shared that the value of their time at BYU–Hawaii was beyond measure. During her experience she strengthened her faith and testimony, learned English, earned a bachelor’s degree, and made lifelong friends. Mi Jeong has shared that through a Church calling in her ward she overcame her fears through study and faith.  Mi Jeong’s first calling in her new ward at BYU–Hawaii was one that she really did not want to take. Mi Jeong was called to be a Relief Society teacher, and she felt very strongly that her English was not good enough to do this calling. Mi Jeong said yes anyway. Through much study and practice, Mi Jeong put in hours to prepare for her Relief Society lessons. Mi Jeong even wrote a script to follow that was over ten pages long. One Sunday when she was teaching, Mi Jeong felt inspired to go off script and to share what was in her heart and mind. She testified that she was able to say all the things she wanted to through the Spirit of the Lord and likened her experience to the following two scriptures: 

D&C 33:8 “Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.”

D&C 8:2 “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”

Through this Church calling Mi Jeong said she learned that through study and faith the Lord works miracles and can even make weaknesses into strengths. 

Since graduating from BYU–Hawaii, Mi Jeong’s husband, Yoon Ha, has worked for the Korean Government Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. Recently, he managed transportation to carry athletes from accommodations and stadiums to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. In April of this year, he led his team to sign an MOU with the Utah Transit Authority introducing a light rail traffic system in Korea.

As for Mi Jeong, she majored in TESOL and taught English for several years after graduation. She then returned to school and earned a master's degree in counseling. Mi Jeong currently works at a juvenile facility helping at-risk teens who deal with mental illnesses and serious traumatic events in their lives.

During their years at BYU–Hawaii Mi Jeong and her family were able to earn their college degrees, develop meaningful and impactful relationships with others, and gain invaluable experiences and skills which have blessed their life’s journey in ways that cannot be measured. 

Desterney Newton Story and Testimony

The last experiences and testimony I would like to share with you today is of a friend of mine that I met while taking accounting classes here at BYU–Hawaii. He and I continued our educational journey at the University of Utah, both of us receiving our master's degrees in accounting. One of the greatest gifts and blessings while you are in school here will be the people you meet and the influence you can have on one another for good. 

Desterney Newton, also known as Mana, came from Reporoa, which is a small rural town in New Zealand. When I met Mana, one of the first things I heard about him was that he had been a competitive boxer in New Zealand. I later found out that he had won three national titles in boxing for his weight and age class.  As part of the NZ boxing team, he had a scholarship to continue boxing and attend Waikato University in New Zealand. However, it was at this crossroads of life that Mana chose to join the Church and go on a full-time mission, despite his potential as a boxer.  As the only member of the Church in his family, this decision was against their wishes. At a very young age Mana was committed to the gospel and his faith and testimony in Jesus Christ. While on his mission Mana met Brother Arapata Meha from the BYU–Hawaii recruiting team. Although he had never met him before, Brother Meha’s first words to him were, “When you finish your mission you're coming to BYUH.”  

Thanks to the IWORK program, Mana was able to take the giant leap of faith to leave his home, family, and dreams of professional boxing to attend BYU–Hawaii. Mana faced the challenge of being the first to attend university, and to do so, he was leaving home without any family support. IWORK and the BYUH recruiting team supported Mana, and in his own words, he otherwise would not have made it.

It was here that Mana met his eternal companion, Kulia Walk. The two of them together graduated from BYU–Hawaii and started their family. Mana graduated magna cum laude both in his undergraduate and graduate studies. He later worked for Deloitte & Touche in Hawaii and New Zealand, eventually making partner. After 10 years, Mana left Deloitte and became CEO of one of New Zealand’s largest Māori organizations with a focus on providing social and educational support for the Māori people. He has also served several governance roles on boards across New Zealand with a focus on growing financial returns for social based outcomes.  

Mana and Kulia now have six children, ranging from ages 17 to 3, that they are raising in New Zealand. Kulia is serving as first counselor in their ward Relief Society and Mana is serving as first counselor in their ward bishopric. In these capacities they are able to work with the youth, even helping connect their youth to BYU–Hawaii. They hope one day their children too will attend BYU–Hawaii to experience and gain the education which blessed their family so richly.  

Mana shared his testimony that his experience here has shaped his entire life and career.  He said, “It is humbling to think of the Lord's specific vision for BYU–Hawaii students, and specifically me, to become, ‘lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.’It’s hard to look at my experiences at BYU–Hawaii and not see the Lord’s hand in every detail.”


In closing, it is my prayer that through these experiences and testimonies I have shared today, that you are excited and inspired to utilize your time here knowing that you are in the midst of countless blessings. The connections and relationships you are cultivating today will inspire you and enrich your future in ways you don’t even realize yet. The journey you are on will bless your lives in immeasurable and invaluable ways as you put forward your best efforts and faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. I know that the Lord loves each and every one of you and desires for you to be your very best. I am blessed in my position here at BYU–Hawaii to work with deans, directors, managers, supervisors, faculty, and staff.  I am humbled by their commitment, dedication, and desire to make each and every one of your experiences here on campus one that will help you fulfill your greatest potential as learners, leaders, and builders of the Lord's kingdom. I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

[1] The Mission of Brigham Young University–Hawaii
[2] David O. Mckay, "Gospel Ideals," BYU Devotional, 1956
[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, "Inspirational Thoughts," Ensign, June 1999
[5] Thomas S. Monson, "Education is a Commandment"