Dragerton, Utah—if the town still existed—would surely be bursting with pride. Effective May 1, Kevin J Worthen (BA ’79, JD ’82), a favorite son of Carbon County and a longtime leader in the BYU community, will assume his role as the 13th president of Brigham Young University.
“I am both honored and humbled,” Worthen said in a press conference following the March 11 announcement. “[BYU is] a place I love.”
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dropped in on the weekly devotional to break the news. But first he took time to acknowledge the service of President Cecil O. and Sharon Samuelson. “President Samuelson has served this institution with great distinction,” he said. “Truly, his influence for good cannot be measured.”
Samuelson’s 11-year tenure—the longest of any BYU president since Ernest L. Wilkinson (BA ’21)—was an era of improvement for the university in facilities, reputation, and exposure. Through unassuming leadership, the Samuelsons endeared themselves to students, as evidenced by chants of “Whoosh Cecil!” filling the Marriott Center after successful free throws. Following the announcement, students rose in a spontaneous ovation for an emotional outgoing president and first lady.
Worthen, who served as a vice president under Samuelson, took time to thank him “both institutionally, for creating the kind of environment that exists here, . . . and personally, . . . as a mentor of mine.”
From Worthen’s rural upbringing in Dragerton and Price, Utah, which included summertime work in coal mines and serving as cocaptain of the College of Eastern Utah basketball team, his prospects and influence have steadily expanded. At BYU he earned bachelor’s and juris doctorate degrees before receiving clerkships for justices on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.
He returned to BYU in 1987 as a professor in the J. Reuben Clark Law School, where he later served as dean. Since 2008 he has been BYU’s advancement vice president, overseeing such areas as BYU Broadcasting, alumni, LDS Philantrhopies, and athletics. Worthen is married to Peggy Sealey Worthen (BA ’03), and they are the parents of three children.
In all, more than half of Worthen’s 57 years have been spent on campus, learning, teaching, administrating, and cheering on the Cougars. “I’m a BYU guy through and through,” he says.
Worthen says not to expect a major overhaul of the university’s direction or mission under his leadership. His focus, rather, will be on reinforcing and expanding BYU’s mission to provide an education that is both intellectually enlarging and spiritually strengthening. “One of the key lessons I’ve learned is that if you keep focus on the mission, opportunities will come up that can enhance what we’re doing.”
The one thing to know about the Carbon County kid who is now president of BYU? Worthen keeps it simple: “That I love BYU, and I’m a BYU guy.”
—Peter B. Gardner (BA ’98, MA ’04)