No one, it seems, enjoys watching young people perform more than President Thomas S. Monson. He was among the most enthusiastic members of the nearly 3,000 people who attended the youth cultural celebration in the Civic Center in downtown Atlanta on Saturday evening, April 30, prior to the temple's rededication on Sunday, May 1.
Before the program began, he addressed the audience, directing his remarks to the youth. Referring to the program's title, President Monson said, "Tonight as you present 'Southern Lights,' we will be blessed by the light which emanates from each one of you, the children of light. I pronounce a blessing upon you that you may feel the love which we have for you. May you know, also, that our Heavenly Father loves you. I bless you that you will ever have a desire to serve Him and His Son Jesus Christ. I bless you that you will always face the light and walk in the truth."
Accompanying President Monson at the program were Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Walter F. Gonzalez of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and Elder M. Keith Giddens, an Area Seventy who was the coordinator of the local temple rededication committee. Sister Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the general Young Women presidency and daughter of President Monson and Sister Frances J. Monson, also attended. Accompanying their husbands were Sisters Barbara Ballard, Zulma Anahir Gonzalez, Vicky Walker and Rhonda Giddens.
The celebration featured 2,7000 young men and young women from throughout the temple district, which includes all of Georgia and parts of Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina.
The program, which recapped highlights of U.S., Georgia and Church history in the state, began with a blaze of light and narration that quoted Genesis 1:13: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And God said, Let there be light and there was light." Other scriptures regarding light were quoted and shown on large video screens was an artist's depiction of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.
A history of temple building was included, beginning with the building of Solomon's Temple.
"Here in Atlanta, our own temple was closed in July of 2009 to undergo extensive renovation and renewal," a narrator stated. "We have missed its light. Tomorrow, it will be rededicated as His House, a temple unto the Lord. Tomorrow the light of the temple will shine again."
The curtain opened and narration continued: "Welcome to the beautiful South where it is green all year round from the trees and wallowing in color throughout the spring from all the flowers. During the summer nights, we listen to the cicada serenade us while we watch the flicker and flash of the fireflies as they dance across the sky. Tonight there is something special in the air. There is excitement and expectation. We are 'Waitin' for the Light to Shine.'"
A large choir of youth sang that song, with some verse adjustments to fit the occasion of the temple's rededication. The cast filed down the auditorium's aisles, joining the choir in singing.
Program highlights included a tribute to historical events, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Georgia's original Native Americans (the Cherokee and the Creek Indians), Negro Spirituals and the growing population of Hispanic Church members and the vibrant traditions they have brought to Georgia.
Southern culture was depicted as youth waltzed to "Roses from the South" – with the young women in hoop-skirted ball gowns and the young men in period formal costumes. Folk dances, big band music, show tunes, MoTown, country swing and hit songs from the past several decades were all part of the program.
A stage full of young men energetically performing "The Stomp" and a lone youth doing an Irish step dance brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation. Salsa dancing and Olympic fanfare (Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Games) were included.
High school football, a big event in the South, was represented by flag and cheer presentations and a stage full of young men doing football warm ups.
Rounding out the program were videos of several youth in a "My name is … and I'm a Mormon" segment, the choir singing, "He Is the Light," which was written especially for the youth celebration, ballet dancers performing to the music of "Morning Has Broken," and the choir and cast – which filled the aisles – singing "Called to Serve."
A trumpet call preceded the singing by the choir, cast and audience of "The Spirit of God."
The program was directed by Kathie and Rene' Alba. They met while performing with BYU's International Folk Dancers. Brother and Sister Alba have had much experience staging large productions. She assisted with the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Games.