BUENA VISTA, VA.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband spoke at the inauguration of Southern Virginia University President Reed Wilcox on Sept. 16, marking the first official visit to the campus by an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Rasband praised the university, which though independent of the Church is guided by LDS principles. He also noted how small class sizes allow faculty and administrators at the small, liberal arts school to focus on each student, and he delivered a gospel message about the principle of helping the one.
“Many colleges and universities boast of their numbers,” he said, “fitting in as many students as they can in a classroom or hall. Not here. You have the luxury of a student body where the focus is not on the mass of students, but on the one. Whether you are in the class of 2017 or the class of 2020, you will accept your diploma one by one.”
President Wilcox’s inauguration took place on a pleasant afternoon on SVU’s campus in the Shenandoah Valley. A capacity crowd of 1,100 filled the Stoddard Center, which was a horse stable and riding arena in 1996 when university founder Glade Knight agreed to help take over the financially troubled former Southern Seminary and transform it into SVU.
“Twenty years ago,” Elder Rasband said, “a small group of leaders, recognizing a need for an institution of this caliber on the east coast, established this university from what had begun here as Southern Seminary at the turn of the 20th century. Those visionaries perhaps could see today and beyond; we commend them for putting in place this campus for higher learning and higher standards of living. … We say thank you for making this day possible. Much has happened here at Southern Virginia University — there is much, much more to come.”
President Wilcox is SVU’s eighth president. A former BYU student body president with both an MBA and law degree from Harvard, he previously led a global medical company with a specialty in nanomedicine. He has served as SVU’s president for two years, but his inauguration was delayed by other events.
“This institution will be enriched and enlarged by the leadership of President Wilcox,” Elder Rasband said. “It is fair to say, this university is in very good hands. To have him at the helm is to have a man who will seek God in his decisions, who will seek counsel from the board of trustees, his advisors and faculty and who will seek opportunities to work with the students … one by one.”
Elder Rasband encouraged the school’s 811 students — SVU set a new enrollment record in the current semester — to seek a testimony of Jesus Christ, prophets, the Book of Mormon and priesthood power. He also gave the university president a charge.
“President Wilcox, you will feel the Lord guiding you and impressing upon you what needs to be done here at the university,” Elder Rasband said. “I encourage you to find ways to help students to include religious thought and study as central and not just complementary to their university experience.”
Elder Rasband’s theme focused on serving individuals as the Savior did. He said the phrase “one by one” is one of his favorites and noted that it was the title of his first general conference talk in 2000.
“One by one He took our sins upon Him in the Garden of Gethsemane,” he said. “One by one He healed the blind.”
The Lord still follows that pattern, he added.
“You will find the Lord teaches us individually, one at a time. The beauty of the gospel in our lives is that the Spirit touches our hearts one by one.”
Elder Rasband also commented on the quiet campus, set on a green hill in the valley between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains.
“This campus has serenity conducive to learning,” Elder Rasband said. “Not all campuses have such a sense of peace. I think that is why the Lord chose the mountaintops and sacred groves for His teaching. When the rush, noises, and pressures of everyday life do not distract us, we can more easily connect with the Spirit.”
Elder Rasband delighted students when he visited eight classes in the morning before the inauguration. SVU’s football and women’s soccer teams delayed trips to away games to hear him speak in the afternoon, and the cross country teams skipped a meet to participate in his visit.