Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson and his wife, Sister Sharon G. Samuelson, often speak together at each semester's first campus devotional. But departing from their usual order — President Samuelson speaking following Sister Samuelson — the couple team-taught from the Marriott Center pulpit Tuesday, Jan. 10, with each sharing their appreciation for BYU and the values the school champions and both taking turns speaking and supporting each other's remarks.
"We really want to focus today on some of the many things we appreciate about BYU," said President Samuelson, standing next to his wife. "We believe our gratitude is enhanced and sharpened especially because we did not come to BYU early in our lives and careers."
Humorously making reference to the fact that neither attended BYU as students (President Samuelson holds three degrees from the University of Utah) Sister Samuelson said that the two nonetheless "are died-in-the-wool Cougars," especially, President Samuelson added, because Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) had asked them to "put on a blue coat" after he extended the assignment of 12th university president to President Samuelson in 2003. (President Samuelson is a former dean and vice president of Health Sciences at the University of Utah. He was a member of the Seventy from October 1994-October 2011, serving part of that time in the Presidency of the Seventy.)
During the devotional, Sister Samuelson said she was grateful for BYU's mission statement and "Aims of a BYU Education," stating that the two documents "differ dramatically from the documents of almost all other distinguished institutions of higher learning."
Adopted in 1981, the "Mission of Brigham Young University" affirms that the school aims to "assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life."
"Not only is the statement itself quite unique, but such an assertion would not be tolerated or accepted at virtually any other serious university not part of our Church Educational System," she said, also explaining that BYU's four "Aims" — to provide a spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character-building education that leads to lifelong learning and service — help students achieve such eternal life.
"We believe the 'Mission and Aims' to be true and reflective of what BYU is and tries to be," she continued. "They also represent so much of what we observe, feel and appreciate about Brigham Young University."
President Samuelson then added that he is grateful for BYU's Honor Code, a set of moral standards that has at times been scrutinized but has also been used as a model code of conduct by other universities.
"As those familiar with our history understand, the Honor Code was instituted by student initiative and continues to be ratified and supported by our Board of Trustees," President Samuelson explained. (The BYU Board of Trustees includes the three members of the First Presidency, with President Thomas S. Monson as chairman, as well as other General Authorities and general officers of the Church.)
President Samuelson continued by stating many students do not consider that the BYU's Honor Code can follow them throughout their lives, sustaining them in the process.
"With few but notable individual exceptions, BYU graduates are known to be honorable people with integrity in all of its dimensions," he said. "We hear this from employers, associates, government and military leaders and from others."
Sister Samuelson added a word of caution concerning the Honor Code, saying that "trying to decide how far to push the envelope or how close to the line to walk" for seemingly less consequential matters, such as modesty, is a continual struggle for some.
"Please remember that modesty is much more a matter of attitude and respect than it is of hair length, necklines, hem line or spandex stretching," she said.
Among other aspects they appreciate, President and Sister Samuelson said they are grateful for BYU's mentoring atmosphere, an atmosphere, President Samuelson said, that is helping bring the school to academic forefronts.
"As BYU continues to emerge as an excellent and serious university of high quality," he explained, "many across the country and around the world recognize that we are in the top rank of institutions producing outstanding baccalaureate graduates who then go on to receive Ph.D. degrees and other doctorates at the best universities. These observers know what has happened here, but often don't fully understand why. … Key to what happens here for many students is the mentoring that occurs."
During the devotional, Sister Samuelson also reminded students that not everyone would be able to have a "BYU experience" for their education.
"We believe BYU helps us all be better people," she said early on in the devotional, "but we must always remember that does not mean that anyone here is better than anyone else not directly connected to this unique university."
In his closing comments, President Samuelson also acknowledged "those of our community but not of our faith who live lives of example and honor who bring credit to this wonderful university as well as to their own religious traditions."
"All of these things and so many more," he continued, "contribute to the gratitude we feel for BYU and what it means to us and to the world."