The inauguration of Elder Cecil O. Samuelson as BYU's 12th president honored the university community as well as its new leader.
On Sept. 9 in front of more than 21,000 members of the BYU community, President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached up and hung a presidential medallion around the neck of Cecil O. Samuelson, charging him to lead Brigham Young University to new heights.
But amid the colorful academic robes, the music that filled the Marriott Center, and the extended standing ovation, it gradually became clear that this inauguration was not just a celebration of a man and his office. Expressions of gratitude acknowledged the contributions of the entire university family, melodic strains stirred feelings of deeper themes, and speakers dwelt on the inspired mission of BYU.
“I am frankly embarrassed,” said President Samuelson of the attention he was receiving, “but am constantly reminded that today is not about me. It is all about this wonderful place and idea we know as Brigham Young University.”
President Hinckley celebrated the school’s success in fulfilling its lofty purpose. “Here we are doing what is not done in any other major university of which I am aware,” he said. “We are demonstrating that faith in the Almighty can accompany and enrich scholarship in the secular. It is more than an experiment. It is an accomplishment.”
That accomplishment, said President Samuelson, results from the contributions of many. Faculty members, students, staff, donors, and alumni were all honored for their devotion and achievements, and the new president reminded the university community of “our debt for the substantive and continuing support of those many who assist and enable us through their faithful living of the law of tithing. This includes the poor and meek who may never have the privilege of a direct BYU experience.”
President Samuelson also called attention to the contributions of the past. “We must never forget those whose vision and sacrifices have made our comfortable and positive present possible,” he said, acknowledging the presence of his predecessor, Elder Merrill J. Bateman, clad, like President Samuelson, in blue presidential robes. “President Bateman built impressively on the firm foundation he found when he arrived and in turn left the university strengthened in important ways.”
Just as the festivities lauded more than the president, so President Hinckley extended his charge to the whole university. To the faculty he emphasized the need to strengthen scholarship and to focus on building character. “We should not have failures on this campus,” he said of the students. “We are more than teachers. We are shepherds.”
From students President Hinckley urged concerted effort. “Mediocrity will never do,” he said. “You are capable of something better. Give it your very best. You will never again have such an opportunity. Pray about it. Work at it. Make it happen. Drink in the great knowledge here to be obtained from this dedicated faculty.”
As inaugurations go, the ceremony was brief—a mere 55 minutes—and the fanfare was subdued. Still, as 600 student musicians in the choir and orchestra filled the arena with hymns of praise, there was a definite atmosphere of celebration—celebration for a university, for inspired leadership, for the providence of a divine hand.
“We must always keep in mind our sacred mission,” said President Samuelson, “to seek the best of academic and scholastic achievement within the enfolding environment and sustaining power of abiding faith in our Heavenly Father; in His Son, our Savior; and in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot neglect or be passive about either our environment of faith or our commitment to academic excellence. In all that we do, we want to bless our students by never allowing the balance between these fundamental basics to become tilted in any direction.”
One Big Happy Family
By B. Robert Zawrotny, ’04
Who would imagine 2,600 people could fit into one living room? Converting the hard court of the Marriott Center into their home turf, President and Sister Samuelson did just that and more, winning the hearts and devotion of the BYU student body at a “campus home evening activity” on Sept. 10.
Seated in a mock living room complete with couches and a giant job chart, President Cecil O. Samuelson; his wife, Sharon; and his daughter Sara used the opportunity to introduce their immediate family to their new campus clan. Like any good family home evening, the night included family business, a musical number (by the group Vocal Point), story time, a game of Operation (with members of the Pre-Med Club), a question-and-answer session, and a lesson.
Counterbalancing the formality of his inauguration ceremony, President Samuelson asked the BYU Student Service Association (BYUSA) to organize an activity that would help him get acquainted with the students on a personal level. David A. Johnson, ’04, BYUSA president, explains, “We wanted this to help the students to learn about the president personally and to get to know him and also to give him the chance to counsel them spiritually.”
From the start, President and Sister Samuelson kept the crowd entertained with their quick wit. Kimberly Gardner, ’04, BYUSA vice president for public relations, says, “I just thought he was hilarious. And that was probably the funnest thing for all of us, to just see President Samuelson as who he is.”
One such light-hearted moment came during the question-and-answer session when a student asked President Samuelson what his favorite kind of Jell-O was. “We’ve had 39 years of happy marriage, and I hope you understand the dynamics,” he quipped. “My favorite kind of Jell-O is the kind she puts before me.”
Besides keeping the students entertained during their giant flannel-board presentation of how they met and with their game of Operation, the former physician and his wife also used the opportunity to counsel those in attendance.
During the question-and-answer session, President Samuelson touched on the blessings of being at BYU: “It’s been established by the Lord through the prophets of the Lord, and we ought not to take that lightly because that gives us advantages that no other place has.” He also addressed the importance of attending devotionals, saying that he’s realized that “in the four and a half months that we’ve been here on campus that one of the remarkable things about Brigham Young University is our devotionals, and we hope that you will come.”
For her part, Sister Samuelson counseled the students to get involved in campus life and obey the honor code, among other things. She told students that it is up to them to make the most of their college experience. “If your time at Brigham Young University is going to be as wonderful a time as you all want it to be, for the most part it is up to you,” she said.
Besides walking out the doors with rice crispy treats “made” by Sister Samuelson, those in attendance left campus home evening entertained and inspired. “I think they saw a side that we usually don’t get to see in a president,” says Tyson E. Taylor, ’05, executive director of BYUSA campus activities. “We were also able to get a wonderful spiritual message from him about attending devotionals, purifying ourselves, and making ourselves better people—and at the same time have a little fun and come together as a campus.