How education, family and testimony are interwoven threads in the life of Elder Clark G. Gilbert

Elder Clark G. Gilbert is both a learner and a teacher. The new General Authority Seventy’s past educational leadership includes academic posts at BYU-Pathway Worldwide, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Harvard Business School and in the assignment he will assume later this year as commissioner of the Church Educational System.

Sustained at April 2021 general conference and designated to be the new commissioner when General Authorities were given new area and Church headquarters assignments just after conference, Elder Gilbert wonders, however, how his full-time Church service will impact a beloved family educational institution: Gilbert Academy.

The “Academy” is the family’s annual summer trip and the educational buildup to it. Elder Gilbert and his wife, Sister Christine Gilbert, combine travel and learning as focal experiences for their eight children. With a daughter in grade school, three children in junior high, two in high school and two in college, keeping the curriculum engaging remained a constant effort.

With a new destination selected each Christmas, the family spends six to seven months preparing reports and discussions on a variety of themes and topics about the area — everything from the local culture to the local cuisine. Gilbert Academy also emphasizes learning about the Church’s history and presence in the area and attending worship services there.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert of the Seventy
Elder Clark G. Gilbert of the Seventy Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

While the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled travel plans for 2020, previous Gilbert Academy highlights included trips to Japan, where Elder Gilbert served as a young missionary; Massachusetts, with a return to the family’s early years; and Europe, including stops at London’s Hyde Park Chapel and The Hague Netherlands Temple. Jerusalem remains a hoped-for future destination.

“We wanted our children to know you can engage and be part of the world and stay grounded in the gospel,” he said. “There’s no place you can go where you can’t stay strong in your faith, and no place you can go where the Church doesn’t have a presence,” Elder Gilbert said. “That was a really important part of our travel, and we wanted them to feel like they could learn and discover, and the gospel would be right there no matter where we went.”

He added: “For us, Gilbert Academy is just an extension of a long-standing commitment from a young age to gospel-centered education.”

Clark Gordon Gilbert was born in Oakland, California, in 1970 to Paul and Susan Gilbert, while his father was attending UC Berkeley School of Law. The Gilberts raised their family in Phoenix, Arizona, with young Clark nurtured in the gospel by parents who valued learning.

“They never made me think that education and the gospel were decoupled in any way — the more you have faith, the more you want to learn and grow, and the more you learn and grow, the deeper your faith can become.

“That is what made BYU so special to me — for the first time, I felt the expanded strength of the Church, and it was directly tied to my growth academically.”

It was while attending Brigham Young University that he met Christine Calder. “I knew everything about him before I met him,” recalled Sister Gilbert, who was roommates with his sister in Provo, Utah, after the two became fast friends during BYU’s Study Abroad in London.

The first Clark-Christine interaction came in student government, and soon they started dating. A year later, after a short engagement, they were sealed Feb. 5, 1994, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Graduation from BYU was followed by a master’s degree from Stanford and a doctorate from the Harvard Business School. Even as Elder Gilbert joined the faculty at the Harvard Business School, the Gilberts began to consider when to pursue his “dream job” — teaching at BYU. They were completely unaware “other” BYUs awaited them.

Looking back, Elder Gilbert credits defining Church service two decades ago — helping inner-city youth in Boston, Massachusetts — as preparing him to take educational opportunities to larger audiences. It came as he was busy in graduate school and caring for a young family.

“Those young men didn’t always have a lot of support — they became a part of our lives, and we grew to love them,” he said. “I learned to listen to the Lord and knew He was in their lives. I could hear Him telling me what I needed to do for them.”

The Lord taught him about the needs of other people, he added. “It wasn’t just that He was preparing me for education, but He was showing me what He could do in the lives of people at a deep, personal level.”

Elder Kim B. Clark, a Harvard colleague and mentor who had become president of BYU-Idaho prior to his call as a General Authority, invited the Gilberts to pray about another option besides teaching in Provo — one at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho.

Elder Gilbert recalls thinking perhaps too narrowly about the potential of the school, responding, “I think BYU-Idaho can help and bless the inner city.”

That is true, but the problem is much bigger, responded then-President Clark: “My invitation to you is to come to Rexburg and help us rethink Church education on a global scale.”

“BYU-Pathway wasn’t created yet — we didn’t even have online learning organized. So, on one hand, those Boston boys prepared me for taking an assignment to help bring those blessings to a much larger audience.”

Accepting the “other option,” Elder Gilbert found himself on a path of creating landmark online education opportunities and other digital innovations, both at BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway Worldwide, first serving as associate academic vice president at BYU-Idaho and later as president at both BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway.

President Russell M. Nelson puts a medallion on President Clark G. Gilbert after giving him charge at the BYU Pathway Worldwide inauguration Nov. 16, 2017. President Gilbert's wife, Christine, stands with him.
President Russell M. Nelson puts a medallion on President Clark G. Gilbert after giving him charge at the BYU Pathway Worldwide inauguration Nov. 16, 2017. President Gilbert’s wife, Christine, stands with him. Credit: BYU-Pathway Worldwide, BYU-Pathway Worldwide

Through all of his career responsibilities, family has been a focus of the Gilberts — with dinners together and helping kids to bed each evening, date night each week and Sundays carved out and protected from work. “A big part of that is my wife, and the home she creates,” Elder Gilbert said.

He recalls being lovingly chastised by the late President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who had learned of Elder Gilbert’s “second shift” of late night work at home that kept him up until 1 or 2 a.m. most days.

President Packer committed him to a midnight curfew and increased attention to his wife and children.

“We had pretty good patterns protecting our family, but that was a real pivot in our life,” Elder Gilbert said. “It made me much more deliberate about not just carving out time but being focused on Christine and our children. It’s remarkable to be in a Church where they want that — they give significant responsibility to people all across the Church, but they want our families to remain our first responsibility.”

Elder Gilbert testifies of the gospel in action — a testimony that has deepened in the past 20 years as he and Sister Gilbert have received revelation — about their family, his work for the Church, where they should live and other life decisions.

“I feel the Lord has been active in my life, my family’s life and in the lives of those whom I serve,” he said. “To me, it’s not a question of ‘Do I believe?’ — it’s ‘How do I put into practice what the Lord is trying to do in your life and in the lives of others?’

“The foundational testimony — the central truths of the gospel — became an anchor, but ever since it has been a testimony of the gospel in action.”

Biographical information

Family: Born in Oakland, California, on June 18, 1970. Son of Paul Ensign Gilbert and Susan Carlson Gilbert. Married Christine Calder on Feb. 5, 1994, in the Salt Lake Temple; they are the parents of eight children.

Education: Received a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations in 1994 from Brigham Young University, a Master of Arts degree in Asian studies in 1995 from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Business Administration degree in 2001 from Harvard University.

Employment: President of BYU-Pathway Worldwide, President of Brigham Young University-Idaho, president/chief executive officer of Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, associate academic vice president at BYU-Idaho and professor at Harvard Business School.

Church Service: Area Seventy, counselor in a stake presidency, bishop, counselor in a stake Young Men presidency, Sunday School teacher, elders quorum president and full-time missionary in the Japan Kobe Mission.