Elder Holland announces a new BYU president; the university’s academic vice president will assume the post as the next leader

BYU President Kevin J Worthen has served for nine years and will complete his time as BYU’s 13th president on May 1

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced Tuesday that C. Shane Reese has been appointed as the 14th president of Brigham Young University.

In opening what would normally be the weekly campus devotional, Elder Holland commented, “This will be a devotional with a twist.”

As the chairman of the executive committee of the board of trustees and on behalf of Church President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Holland announced “the conclusion of President Kevin Worthen’s remarkable service as president of Brigham Young University.”

Of their nearly 10 years of service, Elder Holland said, “This is a significant moment in the history of the university, given the remarkable contribution that the Worthens have made.”

In a tender show of support and appreciation for President Worthen, the near-capacity congregation of students gathered in the Marriott Center rose without prompting and applauded the outgoing BYU president.

President Worthen will complete his term as BYU president on May 1.

Reese has served as BYU’s academic vice president since 2019. Before that, he was dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences from 2017 to 2019 and joined the BYU statistics faculty in 2001. He and his wife, Wendy Wood Reese, are the parents of three children. His tenure as president will begin May 1.

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Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hugs President Shane Reese, named as the university’s new president, during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Also in attendance at the devotional were Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of Church education and R. Kelly Haws, assistant to the commissioner of Church education.

In brief remarks, Reese spoke of the “huge shoes” he has been asked to fill as BYU president.

Past presidents of the university include President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, Elder Holland, and Elder Merrill J. Bateman and Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, both emeritus General Authority Seventies. 

In his remarks, Elder Holland spoke of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha, who went to the River Jordan. Elijah removes his mantle, wraps it into a type of bludgeon and strikes the river. The river parts, and the two men walk over on dry ground.

Elijah then is taken up in a chariot of fire in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha, both literally and figuratively, takes up Elijah’s mantle and smites the waters of the Jordan, which again parts “hither and thither” (2 Kings 2:8-15).

From there, Elisha goes on to perform his own ministry — one equal in grandeur, Elder Holland noted — to that of Elijah.

It is “in the spirit of this succession in the ministry” that the announcement for the new president was made, Elder Holland said.

The Apostle described President Worthen as “truly a man of God, a remarkable university president and a dear friend. He’s been recognized as such across the nation. His skill and accomplishments have greatly enhanced the stature of the university. And we love him dearly.”

The Worthens’ farewell

With emotion frequently heard in his voice, President Worthen said he wanted to share three things.

First, he expressed gratitude. To his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen: “One of the reasons that this has been the most joyous professional experience I have had is because more than any other professional experience I have had, Peggy has been part of this by my side, and I have found that the more I’m around her, the happier I am and the better person that I am.”

To the faculty and staff: “I don’t know of a group of individuals who are more mission-focused than those two sets of people.”

And the students: “They radiate goodness and on countless occasions have lifted me up by their mere presence and the mere spirit that they carry.”

President Worthen also shared his view of his tenure. 

When he began as president, he said he created in his mind four levels of goals, each level named for the person who inspired them.

The first most basic goal was named for Warren Dusenberry, who served as the principal of BYU for three and a half months until Karl G. Maeser, the first principal, arrived. “I thought, ‘I do not want my legacy to be that I was the shortest lived of any president of BYU,’” President Worthen said.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen gives thumbs-up after being released from his position during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

His second level goal was named for President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The last home football game that LaVell Edwards coached was against New Mexico. President Hinckley, representing the Board of Trustees, was going to announce that the stadium would be named for LaVell Edwards. When President Hinckley met with the team before the game to share this news he told them, “Don’t muff it.”

That became President Worthen’s second goal. After making it past three and a half months, he thought, “Just don’t do something really stupid.”

The third level was named for President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, who gave President Worthen his inaugural charge.

President Eyring pointed out that as a result of things that have happened in the past, the new president could go forward, not with the fear of muffing it, but with confidence and faith in times of crisis.

“My next level goal was to get to the point where no matter what the crisis may be, I could say ‘things will work out’ because we’re following the course set by my predecessors and, more importantly, by the current Board of Trustees who are prophets, seers and revelators,” President Worthen said.

The final level was named for President Spencer W. Kimball, who declared in his “Second Century Address”: “We expect — we do not simply hope — that Brigham Young University will become … a unique university in all of the world. In the process of time, this truly will become the fully recognized university of the Lord, about which so much has been spoken in the past.”

President Worthen passed along not only his confidence but his assurance to President Reese that he can start at the President Kimball level by making BYU a great university in all the world and doing it in a unique way. 

Finally, President Worthen concluded with “the most important thing.”

“If you know nothing else about me, if you’ve learned nothing else from my tenure, let me share with you that I believe with all my heart, mind, and soul in the truth that there is a God in heaven,” President Worthen declared. “… A manifestation of that love is that He gave His Son, His Only Begotten Son, whose life, death and Resurrection make possible all good endings for each and every one of us because of God’s love.”

BYU President Kevin J Worthen is emotional as he is applauded as he is released from his position during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Worthen spoke directly to the new president and his wife, noting that President Reese is a statistician by trade. “I have my scientific prediction — and with my sincerest apologies to all the brilliant, brilliant statistics professors here at BYU — Shane, Wendy, with an infinitesimal margin of error, I predict that you will do a fantastic job. You really will.”

Knowing this day would come, Sister Worthen said she often wondered how she would feel. “Now that the day has arrived, the most overwhelming feelings are those of gratitude, appreciation and love. … I have a deep and abiding love for this university and all that it stands for.”

‘A BYU guy, through and through’

President Worthen was inaugurated as the 13th president of Brigham Young University on Sept. 9, 2014. During the ceremony, President Eyring, then-first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of his confidence in President Worthen to lead, teach and serve the university. 

President Worthen’s ability to be a determined learner and mentor will help him stay calm and guide him in administrative decisions, President Eyring said.

“He will move quickly and confidently to help individuals in need. 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,” President Eyring said.

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Notable events during President Worthen’s tenure at BYU
Kevin J Worthen hugs President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, at the end of a devotional in Provo, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, where it was announced that Brother Worthen is to become Brigham Young University’s 13th president. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

During President Worthen’s nearly 10 years as president, the university has undergone many changes to “quickly and confidently help individuals in need.”

In November 2017, as a follow up to remarks given by President Worthen at the university conference in 2016, BYU created an office of experiential learning, to coordinate and increase internships, volunteer positions and other opportunities to apply learning and professionalize degrees.

In August 2021, President Worthen announced the formation of a new Office of Belonging and a newly created statement on belonging to focus on helping campus members achieve a community of belonging on campus.

President Worthen also navigated the university through the shutdowns and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the press conference announcing him as the new, incoming president, President Worthen dubbed himself “a BYU guy, through and through.”

He came up through the ranks of BYU, earning his bachelor’s degree and juris doctor degree there and then returning as a faculty member and dean of the law school. He served for six years as the advancement vice president before his appointment as president.

In a Church News article after he was named president, President Worthen noted he has been cheering for the Cougars since he was a boy.

“For some reason, and I suppose it is the same thing other people feel when they come here, [visiting the campus] was just like being at Disneyland. … It didn’t matter whether it was to watch a basketball game, … or to watch a state [high school] tournament when I was in junior high, or for a language fair here on campus. Any time I could be on campus was just magical to me.”

He was born in Dragerton, a mining town in Utah’s Carbon County, as the youngest of four children. He loved sports, and after high school he attended the College of Eastern Utah to play basketball before his mission to Monterrey, Mexico.

He met Peggy Sealey at a Church dance after his mission. The two were married in the Provo Utah Temple in 1978 while he finished his associate’s degree at CEU and worked summers in a local coal mine. Soon after, he transferred to BYU for his bachelor’s degree. The couple have three children and many grandchildren.

President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Peggy Worthen, at BYU’s first devotional of winter semester, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. | Savanna Richardson, BYU

He has served in many Church callings throughout his life, including as an Area Seventy from 2010 to 2021 and as a bishop and stake president. 

Throughout his tenure, President Worthen has taught as well as shown his commitment to and confidence in the mission of BYU as well as the vision and direction of living prophets. 

“There is a divine destiny at this school,” Worthen declared in an April 2014 address, “and it [plays] out largely in the lives of our graduates and the influence that they have. ... To be part of an organization that has that kind of impact — an eternal impact on people’s lives — it’s a tremendous experience.”

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