New president of BYU-Hawaii envisions a ‘Zion university’

Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii
Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii


John S. Tanner was installed as the 10th president of Brigham Young University-Hawaii during inauguration ceremonies held on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

BYU-Hawaii is one of four universities owned by the Church. The 100-acre campus is framed between mountains and ocean in Laie on the North Shore of Oahu. For some 150 years, the location has served as a place of refuge and gathering for Latter-day Saints, a place set apart to serve a divine purpose.

In 1955, President David O. McKay stood in an isolated field that would eventually become part of the grounds of the university and declared, “From this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”

The prophetic roots of the university were acknowledged by President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, as the new president was given the charge to “go forward in leading the university to new heights of honor, achievement, and recognition as the Lord lifts it to its prophetic destiny.”

In his first remarks as an inaugurated president, President Tanner also noted the school’s revelatory origins. “The other Church schools began as grassroots initiatives. This one came by revelation to a prophet, David O. McKay, who spoke expansively and explicitly about his vision for it,” said President Tanner. “I am persuaded that our future is in great part presaged in our prophetic past.”

President Tanner explained when he was asked to serve as president of the university, he hoped to receive “marching orders” from his leaders. Instead, he was encouraged to petition Heaven for himself.

In the ensuing months, President Tanner — who began occupying his position on July 27 — sought inspiration. In his remarks during the inauguration ceremony, he said a vision for the small island university has been “coming into focus.”

That vision includes building a “Zion university,” President Tanner said, “a place where people from many nations learn together in purity, peace, unity and love.”

One of the purposes of the university, he explained, was not only to impart knowledge but also to build character. “I envision a school that inculcates nobility of character, nurturing men and women who cannot be bought or sold, who are ‘genuine gold.’  ”

President Tanner said he anticipates the university remaining relatively small. The influence of its students, however, “will be disproportionate to their numbers, for they will be light bearers and leaders, builders and peacemakers.”

Divinity shapes the ends of BYU-Hawaii, said President Tanner. “I pray that the Carpenter’s Son will help me hew them as He may, for my deepest desire is to shape this school not according to my vision but to His.”

In his remarks, President Eyring spoke of the difficult task ahead for President Tanner in building a “Zion university.”

“Time and again, the Lord has asked his people to establish a Zion community. As always, the greatest challenge has been in the hearts of the people,” President Eyring explained and then quoted President Gordon B. Hinckley who said: “If we are to build that Zion of which the prophets have spoken and of which the Lord has given mighty promise, we must set aside our consuming selfishness. We must rise above our love for comfort and ease, and in the very process of effort and struggle, even in our extremity, we shall become better acquainted with our God” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 59).

The world’s universities create class distinctions, President Eyring noted. The drive for educational quality can pit students against each other. Even in developing a Zion university, outcomes will differ for each individual. “There will not be dead-level equality in all things. But God will help us to love each other so well that we will feel one another’s pains and joys as if they were our own. That would bring the end of selfishness.”

Change of hearts will not come easily, President Eyring said, but when it comes “you will have had a taste of Zion.”

President Eyring said he has tasted it more than once, including as he served as president of Ricks College and he and a professor, his next-door neighbor and another college employee mucked out the basement of the professor that was flooded when the Teton Dam broke.

“There was no hierarchy. Our shovels were the same, and we each felt that it was our basement. The harder the work, the more we felt we needed help from God, and the more we felt that we were children of God, equal in our dependence on Him.”

All the presidents of BYU-Hawaii have felt the same charge as President Tanner, President Eyring continued. “Each has made a personal contribution to the university’s rising to its destiny as a Zion university. And each has found ways to allow students to be transformed into men and women of character who have become an influence for good across the world wherever they have served God and those around them.”

President Eyring said that President Tanner has been prepared with unique gifts and experiences to move the university to its destiny. “President and Sister Tanner, your service here will help the Lord spread an influence for good across the world through your students.”

Elder Kim B. Clark, Commissioner of Education for the Church and a General Authority Seventy, spoke of the great work required with the rising generation.

Whatever degree of faith in Heavenly Father and in His Son Jesus Christ; whatever strength of commitment and consecration; whatever degree of obedience, or hope, or charity; whatever level of skill and ability will not be sufficient for the work that lies ahead, proclaimed Elder Clark.

“Brothers and sisters, you and I need to be much better than we are now because we need to educate the rising generation more deeply and more powerfully than we have ever done before or that anyone has ever done before. And we will need to do that work in the strength of the Lord.”

Other speakers at the inauguration included Daniel M. Scott, chair of BYU-Hawaii Faculty Advisory Council; Dallin J. Leota, president of the BYU-Hawaii Student Service Association; and Keilani Navalta Briones, manager of BYU-Hawaii Alumni Relations. The BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir provided music for the inaugural event including the performance of a song with lyrics penned by President Tanner titled “I Love the Lord.”

The invocation and benediction were offered by Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, and President Kevin J Worthen, president of Brigham Young University. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducted the event.

The inauguration coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Church’s presence in Laie. Earlier celebratory events included a special devotional with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Katherine Christofferson, as well as a pageant showcasing the talents of local LDS youth entitled, Behold Laie (See Church News, Nov. 8, 2015).


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