Students at BYU-Idaho — a university with a rich history of education based on “faith and divine purpose” — welcomed Clark G. Gilbert as their 16th president during an inaugural program held in the BYU-Idaho Center on Sept. 15.
“All of your past experience has led to this opportunity,” said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, to the university’s new president. “President Gilbert, we are grateful that you have responded to the invitation to come and preside over this wonderful institution of higher education. You are well qualified, and you have been well prepared.”
On the second day of the new trimester, students filled the 15,000 seats in the BYU-Idaho Center to watch as their new leader formally accepted his role as university president.
“We give you a charge to lead this university to new heights of purpose, learning, achievement and unity,” President Uchtdorf said.
Members of the Board of Trustees for BYU-Idaho, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Presidency of the Seventy and general auxiliary leaders, also attended the inauguration.
President Uchtdorf shared remarks and participated in the installation. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducted the event, which was attended by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder David A. Bednar, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Kim B. Clark of the Seventy, and Sister Linda K. Burton, general Relief Society president. Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy and Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, offered prayers. A BYU-Idaho combined choir performed musical numbers.
After the formal placing of the president’s medallion — done by President Uchtdorf and President Gilbert’s wife, Sister Christine Gilbert — President Gilbert shared a few remarks. He spoke of “a pioneer’s heart, a disciple’s future.”
President Gilbert said. “Those early pioneers brought a spirit of frugality, a faith and optimism for the unknown, a longing for prophetic direction, and a spirit of personal sacrifice to their trek west.
“At BYU-Idaho we draw on that same pioneer’s heart, a gift of the early settlers who came to this valley and eventually founded this college,” he said. “The pioneer’s heart has been preserved by the Lord in the very location of this campus. It has been carefully cultivated in the Spirit of Ricks.”
It is still at the heart of BYU-Idaho and its role in the educational gathering across the Church.
“Today, we remain on a ‘steady, upward course’ of growth and discovery,” President Gilbert said. “We face a dual challenge: to continue to strengthen our core campus experience, even as we pioneer new ways to reach students around the world.”
To the students on campus, President Gilbert spoke of the qualified faculty who helps facilitate a “student-centered” education.
“We must develop more rigorous and holistic ways to measure and track student outcomes,” he said. “Clearly, some of those efforts will be academic. But if we are truly student centered, we must also be able to strengthen student outcomes that include life skills, career stewardship, family life and spiritual leadership.”
To the students who never physically come to Rexburg, President Gilbert spoke of the responsibility the university has to create curriculum that draws on the principles, outcomes and the spirit of the campus without imposing “the exact pattern of a campus model with online students who may have very different needs.”
“As we reflect on the need to continue to build both our campus and our online programs, we must recognize the implications of a university with increasing reach and scope across the Church,” he said.
An important part of that education is helping students become “disciple leaders.”
“To build disciple leaders in the last days, we must help our students have the conviction to stand as witnesses of Jesus Christ,” he said.
It is through an education that facilitates developing a disciple leader — someone that understands the principle of moral agency and how to apply the Atonement in their lives — that BYU-Idaho’s influence on the world will “continue unabated through the lives and impact of its graduates.”
“Looking back, may we remember the pioneer’s heart that enabled the BYU-Idaho educational gathering to commence,” he said. “Looking forward, may we recognize the purpose for our gathering as we work together to build disciple leaders.”
President Uchtdorf was the concluding speaker. He spoke of the growth BYU-Idaho has had over the past 15 years and of the important role President Gilbert has as president.
“Fifteen years ago, Ricks College became BYU-Idaho,” President Uchtdorf said. “Let me quote from the official statement of that day: ‘Ricks students currently number about 9,000. BYU-Idaho will operate on a year-round basis. No large increases in enrollment are expected. Minimal changes to physical facilities are expected [in the near future].’
“I would say that this was at least a slight understatement of the future,” said President Uchtdorf.
With a current enrollment of more than 43,000 students — including the Pathway program and online students — BYU-Idaho has seen a great increase in growth and many changes to the campus to accommodate the growing student body.
“I am told that this is the largest group of students among its BYU sister institutions,” he said. “In these 15 years the Rexburg Idaho Temple and the BYU-Idaho Center were built, the Manwaring Center was expanded, and many other wonderful physical facilities have been added that have a direct impact on the daily life of this great university.”
Recognizing the great cost of sustaining growth, President Uchtdorf told of the careful thought that has gone into every decision on campus. He also spoke of the large worldwide Church, and the desire of many to attend a Church-owned university. Although it is not possible to accommodate all, President Uchtdorf spoke of the importance of education in the lives of all Church members.
“Follow the charted course of Church education,” President Uchtdorf counseled President Gilbert. “Help students and faculty build their lives around a strong testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by faith in God, our Heavenly Father, and by the Spirit of Christ that we can recognize what is good and true.”
President Uchtdorf concluded, “As you begin this exciting journey, I invoke a blessing of the Lord upon you. I invoke a blessing upon this faculty, upon all your associates and staff. I invoke a blessing upon our precious students who come here year after year. I invoke a blessing upon this beloved Brigham Young University-Idaho, that its influence for good will spread throughout the world and God’s purposes will be fulfilled.”
[email protected] @marianne_holman