By President Merrill J. Bateman
In a Marriott Center devotional on March 18, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, of the Seventy, would replace President Merrill J. Bateman as BYU’s leader on May 1. During the meeting President Bateman made the following remarks.
Brothers and sisters, we have spoken on occasion regarding the importance of attending devotionals. As the size of today’s audience indicates, it is apparent that you have finally accepted our challenge. In all seriousness, attendance at devotionals during the past two years has doubled even though the number of well-known speakers has declined. We appreciate your faithfulness and willingness to help build a community of saints.
First, may I pay tribute to my wife, Marilyn. She has been faithful to the Lord all her life and loyal to me for more than four decades. She is sensitive to the Spirit and wise in her judgment. She has raised seven children and is now grandmother to 28. She is as interested in the grandchildren’s development as she was with her own. Her sacrifices have paved the trail of our mortality. I love her with all my heart. I love you with all my heart.
Almost seven and one-half years ago I received a call from President Hinckley’s office asking if I could attend a meeting in the First Presidency’s boardroom. The purpose was not made known. As I entered the hallway leading to the appointed place, President Faust entered as well and it was apparent that we were headed in the same direction. I asked if he would be in the meeting to which I had been called. He said, “Yes!” About that time I began to have a sinking feeling. I wondered what I had done. As the recently appointed Presiding Bishop, was there special counsel that I needed? Little did I know the change in direction that was about to take place. Little did I understand the great opportunity that lay ahead for Marilyn and me.
As we entered the room, President Hinckley and President Monson were already there. It soon became apparent that the meeting was with the First Presidency and I was the only guest. It was not long before President Hinckley asked if I would accept a change in assignment and become the 11th president of Brigham Young University. Although I remember saying that I would do whatever they asked, I was stunned. Marilyn and I had lived next door to Rex and Janet Lee for 20 years. We knew that President Lee was very ill, but never assumed that we might be asked to take their place.
The seven years that followed have been among the richest of our lives. We have come to love the faculty, staff, and students more than we dreamed possible. Over many years I have learned that the Lord blesses those who serve Him with a special gift, the gift of love, for those whom they serve. This is true for a missionary, a bishop, a Relief Society president, a stake president. And I know now it is true for the president of BYU.
As the years have gone by, we have come to know hundreds of faculty and staff and thousands of students. We have noticed the light within you, as have numerous visitors to campus. I will always remember the Argentine ambassador asking if all the buildings are new, how we keep the campus so clean, why the students are so happy and what is the special light in your eyes. Nor will I forget another diplomat who suggested an experiment. If he were to bring students to this campus from another university he had visited, would they eventually look like you?
We know the Lord has gathered you from the four corners of the earth for a special purpose. You come from 120 countries, speak more than 70 languages. Your purpose in coming is to increase both intellectually and spiritually and then spread across the earth establishing righteous homes, raising faithful children, and giving service to others. Three years ago I attended a branch of the Church in Beijing, China. At the time, all of the members were expatriates, mostly American. Most were employed in multi-national firms in high positions. Approximately 50 families were in attendance. During the priesthood meeting, I asked who had served Chinese-speaking missions. All but three raised their hands. I then asked how many were BYU graduates. Again, a large majority were alumni. The impression came that they were pioneers. They were in the Lord’s hands and were preparing the way.
I believe the Lord has a mission for you. That is why you as faculty, staff, and students are here. Just as I did not foresee my role as president of BYU, neither will you anticipate all that lies ahead. But be assured: the Lord knows your name, He knows the righteous desires of your hearts, and He desires your help in establishing His kingdom on this earth. You may not find yourself in a foreign outpost, but your efforts to build a righteous family and serve your neighbors will save not only others but your own family. He asks that you walk by faith, take a step into the unknown. He will be your guide.
BYU is an extraordinary academic institution, but its uniqueness among all major universities lies in its spiritual dimension. Teaching and research under the guidance of the Holy Spirit enhances learning. This university is rapidly becoming one of the finest educational institutions in the country. Along with President John Taylor and others, I have seen the day when this institution will lead in all fields of knowledge because its people will be of one heart and one mind and there will be no intellectually or spiritually poor among them. May the Lord bless Elder and Sister Samuelson and all of you as you work together to achieve this end is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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