More than four months after receiving the title “BYU president” and the responsibilities that come with the job, Kevin J Worthen officially became the 13th president of Brigham Young University during an inaugural ceremony held on Sept. 9.
Although his tenure and responsibilities as president began on May 1, students, faculty members, Church leaders and others filled the Marriott Center to welcome and hear from the university’s new leader.
“I am grateful to be with you as we celebrate the inauguration of President Worthen as the new leader of this great university,” said President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. “He will help move it along upward on a steady path of progress that his distinguished predecessors have marked and followed.”
All three members of the First Presidency — President Thomas S. Monson, President Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf — attended the ceremony and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chairman of the executive committee of the board of trustees conducted the service.
Four of the university’s past presidents — Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Merrill J. Bateman and Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, emeritus Seventies — along with other Church leaders and university personnel sat on the familiar stage in the Marriott Center. Sister Janet Chamberlain, wife of late President Rex E. Lee, joined the other leaders on the stand.
“I am particularly indebted to the past five [presidents], … each of whom has had a profound impact not only on this university, but also on me personally,” President Worthen said.
President Eyring spoke of President Worthen’s experience at BYU as a student, teacher and an effective leader who knows and honors the university’s deep roots as an institution of learning with an inspired view of education.
Drawing from the words of Brigham Young, President Eyring said, “ ‘Put forth your ability to learn as fast as you can, and gather all the strength of mind and principle of faith you possibly can, and then distribute your knowledge to the people.’ ”
“It goes beyond learning for ourselves,” President Eyring said. “The vision at the founding was that all here will seek truth not for themselves alone but will distribute what they have learned to bless others.”
Reminding listeners of the sign at the edge of campus that reads, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve,” President Eyring said that it is more than a slogan, “it is a main part of the founding vision.”
He spoke of the confidence he has in President Worthen in his new role leading all who will study, teach and serve at the university. Recognizing that it will be tough at times, President Eyring said that it is President Worthen’s ability to be a determined learner and mentor that will help him stay calm and guide him in administrative decisions.
“He will move quickly and confidently to help individuals in need,” President Eyring said. “But he will be at peace about the university itself because it, and those who study and teach here, are on the course set and maintained by the long line of those who have served before him.”
After being presented with a medallion and welcomed to the university, President Worthen spoke, focusing his remarks on moving the university forward in a way defined by the mission statement.
“We are to ‘assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life’ by providing ‘a period of intensive learning’ that includes not just the ‘arts, letters and sciences’ but also the ‘truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ ” he said.
“Given the clear direction provided by our mission statement, the question for us is how can we best move this important work forward at this time,” he said.
His answer: Go to the mountains.
Recognizing the location of the university in relation to the mountains, President Worthen spoke of the famous “Y” on the mountain just east of the university. “The first thing that many visitors to this university notice are the majestic mountains that rise dramatically to the east of our campus.”
Using the iconic block Y as a reminder of the unique education that is provided to students who attend BYU, President Worthen spoke of a BYU education as one that is “broad, deep, spiritual and character building.”
“But the large block Y is only part of the reason, I chose Y Mountain as a symbol,” he said. “I also chose it because it is a mountain. And mountains are a good symbol of the kind of educational process that I hope occurs here.”
Drawing from the words of Henry David Thoreau more than 150 years ago, he spoke of the mountains as places where people could be “elevated and etherealized” — which means to refine, exalt or spiritualize something.
“Mountains are thus locations where people can be enlightened, uplifted and changed,” he said. “The learning process to which we are committed should do the same. It should be education that elevates and etherealizes.”
Drawing from the scriptures, President Worthen shared how mountains are places of instruction, places of spiritual communication and revelation and places of transfiguration.
Whether it is in a classroom, lab, office or other settings where learning occurs, they must be places of instruction at the highest level, he taught. “Students and faculty alike should ascend high enough in their disciplines to think new thought, to find new ways to make things better.”
Just as the Savior went to the mountain to pray, spiritual insights often come in mountain settings. Individuals are often transformed and changed in significant ways in elevated places.
“As we ascend to the tops of the mountains in these ways as a university, we will discover that new peaks lie ahead,” he said. “As imposing as Y Mountain may seem from its base, it is not the tallest mountain to the east of campus. As you reach the summit of that mountain, you realize there are higher mountains behind it. And so it is for us. As we elevate ourselves intellectually, spiritually and in character building ways, we will encounter new and exciting challenges and opportunities that we had not seen before.”
Other participants on the program included Dennis R. Cutchins, co-chairman for the faculty advisory council; Sonya L. Schiffman, chairwoman of the Administrative Advisory Council; Brandon K. Sookhoo, president of the Student Service Association; and Terry R. Seamons, President of the Alumni Association.
The BYU singers, concert choir and philharmonic orchestra provided music during the event. Elder Oaks offered the invocation and Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, gave the benediction.
[email protected] @marianne_holman