‘We want you to flourish’: New BYU President Shane Reese welcomes students to campus
President Shane Reese and his wife, Wendy Reese, spoke at BYU’s first fall devotional. They encouraged students to learn both on campus and in the nearby Latter-day Saint temples
One week before he is formally installed as BYU’s 14th president, Shane Reese and his wife Wendy greeted more than 30,000 students to the university Tuesday at the new school year’s first devotional.
“Welcome to BYU,” President Reese said. “For some of you, that’s a welcome back to BYU. For over 10,000 of you, today is the first time you’ve heard that amazing greeting with all of its anticipation, excitement and wonder.”
The Reeses said they were cheering for the students at a time when many of their college peers across the country feel lonely and uncomfortable.
But first they started with jokes.
While she was a girl, Wendy Reese said, “For as long as I can remember, my nightly prayer always included two things. One was that I would find a man who I loved and could take me to the temple. President Reese wanted me to say that I got more than I bargained for — I also got smart, funny, athletic and incredibly good looking.”
President Reese spoke after his wife and picked up on the theme. He said she is nearly perfect.
“She has really only one clear and obvious character flaw, and that’s her taste in men.”
Each became serious about both the exhilaration and stress of the start of a new semester.
Reese, announced as BYU’s new president on March 21, began serving on May 1.
He will be installed formally as president at next week’s devotional, but in front of 11,889 at the Marriott Center on Tuesday, he said he knew students were “juggling way too many to-dos, activities, homework, jobs, dating life and everything else on your plate.”
“Wendy and I love that you are here at BYU. And we want you to flourish,” he said.
Some have described an epidemic of loneliness among college students.
“Earlier this year, the president of Yeshiva University visited BYU and described a manifestation of this problem as a crisis of meaning,” Reese said.
BYU’s religious underpinnings provide solutions, both Reeses said.
“Gospel methodology means that we will, at appropriate times and in appropriate ways, take approaches to solving problems and addressing issues that deviate from approaches taken at other universities,” President Reese said. “These ways will be rooted in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and will allow us to strike at the root causes of the problems of our time.”
He said BYU’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a program called ministering — rooted in the methodology, concepts and insights of the gospel of Jesus Christ — in place on campus to address the challenge of loneliness, belonging and meaning.
The campus is divided into wards — congregations — of 100 to 200 students in which students reach out periodically to check in, lift, help, support and celebrate with each other.
“Today, I invite each of us to help alleviate the feelings of isolation and loneliness through dedicated ministry, both in formal assignments and any other time you feel you should do something kind for someone else,” he said.
“God loves you,” he added. “He will direct your paths to places where you can serve, to people whom you can love and to situations in which you can bless others and they can bless you.”
Reese asked students to invite God’s direction into their lives and provided three specific suggestions:
- Recognize the Lord’s timing.
- Look up — both upwards to God and up from their phones.
- Cultivate a sense of gratitude.
Reese also talked about the school’s principles-based honor code, which was updated last month.
“As your president, I commit to uphold these principles. I am now asking you to uphold these principles,” he said.
Reese also paid homage to his predecessor, President Kevin Worthen.
“We all have reverence, profound gratitude and happy memories of his leadership, friendship and commitment to the mission of BYU,” Reese said.
What Wendy Reese said
Both Reeses encouraged students to spend time at the Latter-day Saint temples near the BYU campus.
“The close proximity of so many temples to BYU is no coincidence,” Sister Reese said. “I hope you will take time to visit the temple regularly during this semester. It will help you find answers to your prayers. Learn more about the Savior and strengthen your testimony of him.”
President Reese said, “The temple is a holy place where we can find peace in times of turbulence, answers to all of our questions and certainty when we just don’t know what to do. It is the holiest of places. We hope that you will make your time at BYU a time of intensive learning, both on campus and on the temple grounds and in the temple.”
Wendy Reese, who owns her own business making wedding cakes, said that as a little girl, she loved BYU. But as her husband has said many times about his own experience as a new student, her first semester on campus was rocky. She persevered and earned a degree in elementary education.
“My level of comfort at BYU wasn’t always high,” she said. “My freshman year was an exciting time for me, but there were many challenges. My classes were a lot harder than I was expecting. It felt like I had to study harder and longer than everyone around me. I struggled to juggle my student job with my studies. Learning to live with roommates was very different than living at home. It’s fair to say that my first few weeks were not comfortable in several dimensions. Perhaps some here today can relate.”
Feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of life, she said.
“It often helps us grow and test our capacity to do hard things,” she said.
BYU became a place where she felt both comfort and comfortable, in part because of those nearby temples.
“To find comfort that is long lasting, we can turn to Christ — he will comfort our souls in ways that no one else can,” she said, adding, “Feeling comfort, especially from the Savior and through the Holy Ghost, can bring a sense of peace and strength into our lives that will help us overcome and endure life’s challenges.”
Shane Reese will be installed formally as BYU’s 14th president during a devotional assembly on Sept. 19 at 11 a.m. in the BYU Marriott Center. Typically, a member of the church’s senior leadership and the school’s board of trustees speaks at presidential installations.
The inauguration will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYU Radio, Classical 89 KBYU-FM and byutv.org.