A spirit, a love

Students at BYU-Hawaii carry school’s ideals around world

LAIE, Hawaii — Reared in Arizona, Eric B. Shumway first set foot on Hawaiian soil in 1962 en route home from a mission to Tonga. The Church College of Hawaii was just seven years old, having opened to students in September 1955.

In 1966, he returned with his wife, Carolyn, to teach at the school. Except for two years spent earning a doctorate at the University of Virginia in the early 1970s and a three-year tenure as a mission president in Tonga, he and his wife have been affiliated with the school ever since and have been witnesses to most of its history, such as its being renamed in 1974 as Brigham Young University-Hawaii. He became its president in April 1994.

At the conclusion of BYU-Hawaii's 50th anniversary — a time of Jubilee — Oct. 15-23, President Shumway declared, "This past week has been one of the most profound experiences of our lives. We've seen this school grow, mature, develop and progress. What has happened this past week has brought home the fact that the program has been tremendous and it has been the work of the Lord through individuals — men and women who have given of themselves, sacrificed and loved this place.

"We have students from 76 different nations. Many are returned missionaries but still are the only members of the Church in their families. They bring a spirit, love and sense of commitment and vision."

He referred to the words of President David O. McKay in an address he made Feb. 12, 1955, at a ceremony to break ground for the school: "One man said the world needs men who cannot be bought or sold, men who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce. More than that, they'll be leaders. Leaders! Not only in this island, but everywhere. All the world is hungering for them. . . . You mark that word, and 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."

President Shumway said, "We try very hard to instill in every student that visionary moment of President McKay and tell them, 'You are part of the prophecy,' and when he prophesied that leaders would be trained here — leaders who could not be bought or sold, leaders of character — they would continue throughout their lives to be part of that and they must live up to those expectations. That makes for a wonderful celebration like this. We declare it again and again, reaffirm it again and again."

President Shumway said, "I have a sense that David O. McKay would be pleased if he were here during this week of Jubilee, which he may have been. I know it took not only an act of vision but also an act of courage on his part to build this school because not everybody agreed that that kind of investment should be made in this tiny village on this tiny island, among so few people. But his vision was an international Church. Even though BYU-Hawaii is small and will remain small comparatively, it will continue to have a powerful impact upon the unfolding of the Restoration because not only did President McKay see the missionary power of this place but as Elder Marion G. Romney (then of the Quorum of the Twelve) declared in 1973, when he dedicated the Aloha Center, that we are a living laboratory. BYU-Hawaii will be a model, something that all the world can look at and say, 'This is how you achieve racial understanding, ethnic and cross-cultural appreciation and love.' "

He said that a lot of people know BYU-Hawaii as a Polynesian campus. However, he added, the reach of the school goes much further, drawing students from many nations. "Eight years ago we had five students from Mongolia. We have 52 now, and a great majority of them are returned missionaries."

He said that his mind, for the past year, has often been in the past, thinking about what happened 50 years ago where the campus now stands.

"It takes quite a bit of active imagination to envision what it was like when there was nothing here but a muddy cane field that was low and swampy in the view of the temple. The prophet was standing there on a podium that was put on sand so he wouldn't sink down, uttering these amazing things about a school that didn't exist yet. The only thing that was in place was the president, Reuben D. Law. There were no students, no faculty, no buildings, no reputation or credibility — just the words of a prophet."

From February until September of 1955, 153 students and 20 faculty were recruited. "They had a whole temporary campus they (labor missionaries) had hauled in from the other side of the island. They set it up and connected the buildings with asphalt sidewalks."

The school had its first graduating class in 1956. "From 1955-1961 we had four-year accreditation as a baccalaureate degree-granting institution."

As the school has grown, so has its reputation. "In the last seven years we've been ranked in US News & World Report in the tier of the very best institutions of learning in our category in the western United States. That's visible evidence that at least our peers see the value of this place. Not only that, but Consumer's Digest in June 2004 ranked BYU-Hawaii as No. 1 in the nation for its best educational value. No. 2 was BYU in Provo."

He noted that many students work at the adjacent Polynesian Cultural Center 20 hours a week; 40 hours a week during the summer to pay 50 to 60 percent of the total cost of their education.

"These students also provide the miracle of the Polynesian Cultural Center. When people walk on the grounds, it isn't the artifacts, or the food or even the performances that impress them as much as the personality and the light that come through these young students. They are so engaging and so beloved. I like to say, and Vaughn Orgill, president of the Polynesian Cultural Center, says it even better than I do — our students come from the world but they also host the world that comes to the Polynesian Cultural Center."

E-mail to: [email protected]