BYU and its students must continue to secure and magnify their uniqueness, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Tuesday at a campus devotional.

He said he based his talk on late church President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1975 talk about BYU’s second century and used a famous “Candid Camera” video about an unwitting subject conforming to the strange behavior of others in an elevator.

“Those who deviate from a majority are often made to feel like ignorant holdouts on subjects where everyone else is more enlightened,” President Oaks said. “When higher education or the world in general call upon faculty to vary from gospel standards, do we dare to be different?”

BYU’s differences are rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he said, as the university strives to excel in both the secular and the spiritual.

President Kimball said BYU must not be shackled by “worldly ideologies and concepts” and “must not [allow itself to] be made over in the image of the world” as it seeks to become “a unique university in all of the world.”

How is BYU unique?

President Oaks shared four ways the university is and will be unique:

  • BYU won’t desert or dilute existing truth.
  • BYU will focus on undergraduate education.
  • BYU and its students will have personal and institutional relationships with God.
  • BYU will work with other universities and scholars with parallel purposes but “break with the educational establishment” when necessary “to find gospel ways to help mankind.”

Leaders of the church, which sponsors BYU, have recently and repeatedly reiterated the importance of President Kimball’s outline for the university’s second century, which he gave when President Oaks was BYU’s president.

BYU President Dallin Oaks, left, shakes hands and hugs President Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ.
BYU President Dallin Oaks, left, shakes hands and hugs President Spencer W. Kimball, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during a campus event in the 1970s. | Deseret News Archives

During the summer of 2021, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the talk with BYU leaders. Another member of the quorum, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, raised it with faculty at the Annual University Conference in August 2021 and said BYU must be a school that “stands unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the church that sponsors it.”

The new commissioner of church education, Elder Clark G. Gilbert, is evaluating BYU’s progress on President Kimball’s second-century goals. He said at a campus devotional in February that BYU will remain “a religious university with a religious purpose.”

At the school’s annual Education Week last month, Elder Gilbert shared an example. He said BYU was working on creating a greater sense of belonging for different races on campus and would use a gospel-centered approach for diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“We should be better than we are now, and we should be a light to the world but not replicating the world,” he said.

Those statements were underscored in May by church President Russell M. Nelson.

“There is a major difference, however, between the responsibilities of secular educators and my responsibility as the senior apostle on earth,” he said in a worldwide devotional for young adults. “Their job is to educate and prepare you for your mortal experience — meaning, how to succeed in your life’s work. My responsibility is to educate and prepare you also for your immortal experience — meaning, how to gain eternal life.”

‘Candid Camera’ conformity

President Oaks and Elder Gilbert stood together in May to speak at Ensign College, another church school, where Elder Gilbert shared the “Candid Camera” video.

BYU students laughed along Tuesday as they watched unwitting subjects shift their place in an elevator to conform with everyone else, even when they turned sideways or to face the back of the elevator.

Audience members laugh as they watch a humorous video presented as President Dallin H. Oaks during his campus devotional address at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“As students, do you dare to be different?” President Oaks said when the video ended. “Are you willing to face the opposite direction in the world’s elevators? More important than what you do as a student are the choices you are making in your personal life — the priorities you are adopting consciously or subconsciously. Are you going forward against the world’s opposition?”

“Of course,” he added, “‘being different’ does not suggest being different from your brothers and sisters who follow the Lord and his servants. It means being different from the world’s ways when they do not follow the Lord’s way.”

He also shared a story about a middle school boy who stood up to someone bullying another student, and used it to call on BYU students to stand up and serve others.

It can be difficult to be different, President Oaks noted, but he encouraged the BYU community not to fear.

“Keeping gospel standards does not make you second class or condemn your example to obscurity,” he said. “All of us know of persons whose performance is enhanced in quality and visibility by being different from the crowd. President Nelson taught us this a year ago:

“‘Please believe me, that when your spiritual foundation is built solidly upon Jesus Christ, you have no need to fear. As you are true to your covenants made in the temple, you will be strengthened by His power.’”

President Oaks’ talk can be viewed on BYUtv. The full text of the talk will be available soon at BYU Speeches.

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BYU’s next devotional is at 11:05 a.m. on Sept. 20. The speaker will be Brother Steven J. Lund, general president of the church’s Young Men organization.