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Home evening with the Samuelsons

10,000 students join university president for flannel board stories, Rice Krispies treats

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PROVO, Utah — It had all the makings of an "intimate" family home evening: a job chart, a flannel board story, a game, the singing of "Love at Home," and Rice Krispies treats. The mother offered counsel, the father answered questions.

However, this family home evening was anything but typical.

Newly inaugurated BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson of the Seventy and his wife, Sharon, hosted the event to get to know their new BYU family, and to help the students get to know them.

Gathered in the BYU Marriott Center Sept. 10 — the day after Elder Samuelson was installed as BYU's 12th president — more than 10,000 students learned about the Samuelsons' courtship, about Elder Samuelson's career and about his vision for BYU. They also learned something else: their university's top administrator can make people laugh.

Showing off his dry sense of humor, Elder Samuelson began the program by telling BYU student body president Dave Johnson that Sister Samuelson — "a whiz in the kitchen" — wouldn't have any problem whipping up 10,000 treats for their new extended family. (The Samuelsons delivered on their promise, distributing thousands of packaged Rice Krispies treats at the close of the program.)

Not long into the evening, Elder Samuelson took off his suit coat, donning a Mr. Rogers-style sweater and declaring, "It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

He watched his wife recount their courtship via flannel board characters; Elder Samuelson's father first introduced the young couple. "Listen to your parents," Sister Samuelson counseled the students.

Then he participated in a rigged game of "Operation," in which Sister Samuelson was victorious. The former doctor couldn't get near the life-size version of the popular board game, which required players to use a steady hand with a faux surgical instrument, without setting off the buzzer.

"I hope you enjoyed it," Elder Samuelson told his wife. "This is the last time we play this game."

He also listened as his wife discussed "family business," asking the students to remember the phrase, "If it is going to be, it is up to me." Speaking as "their mother," she also told them to get involved in campus activities, don't stay up too late and perform service. "Work hard, be good, have fun," she said.

And still the good sport, Elder Samuelson even went along with one male student who during a question-and-answer session asked how to get a date with the Samuelson's college-age daughter, Sara. A University of Utah student, Sara also participated in the program.

"Sara is a 20-cow girl … ," Elder Samuelson said referring to the BYU film, "Johnny Lingo." "You would need to be prepared with a dowry."

However, eventually Elder Samuelson drew the line.

"You are trying to get me to sing. I'm not going to do it. I'm the president, and I don't have to do it," he told the student body after a request to sing his favorite Primary song. " … I'm trying to be a good sport, but I have limits."

Also during the question-and-answer session, Elder Samuelson told BYU students to not have higher standards for others than they have for themselves; that his heroes are his father, President Gordon B. Hinckley and the Prophet Joseph; and that his favorite place to visit is England, where he lived three years while serving as president of the Church's Europe North Area. He expressed a desire for the students on campus to dress modestly, told them the school's greatest weakness may be pride and made a plea for them to attend weekly campus devotionals.

"With all the fun that we have had," he said, "think seriously and commit to coming to devotionals. The expectation is that we will be well prepared academically and spiritually to serve the kingdom when we leave."

E-mail: sarah@desnews.com