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BYUH ohana bids farewell to Tanners and welcomes 11th university president

Wearing flower leis, John and Susan Tanner sit beside each other on red chairs.

Five years after he was first announced president of BYU–Hawaii, John S. Tanner gave his words of farewell and welcomed his successor, John “Keoni” Kauwe, in a special devotional broadcast from Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 12. 

“These have been sweet years, wonderful years for us. We have come to love you and the university more and more with each passing year,” said President Tanner. 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced the incoming president’s fourth great-grandfather was one of the first native Hawaiian members to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

“‘To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.’ What a wonderful time and season we usher in today at BYU–Hawaii. 

“We wish both the Tanners and the Kauwes God’s speed in the next chapters of their respective lives,” said Holland. 

President Tanner shared how although he is not exactly sure what comes next in his journey, he is certain it will come with more opportunities to love and serve. “The most important journey we take is never traced by the arc of our professional lives. The journey that matters most – no, that matters all – is the journey of discipleship.” 

Laura Hinze, a junior from Washington studying marine biology, said she was saddened by the news of the Tanners’ release, since she started as a freshman the same semester they were inaugurated. 

“At their [inauguration], they talked about how they were starting a new journey and were excited to go off onto this voyage of learning how to be a president. I resonated with what they were talking about because I had just started college. 

“They’ve been with me the entire time I’ve been here. It was kind of beautiful that we were both starting at the same time, so I emotionally connected and resonated with that.”

President Tanner shared it was a “poignant moment” for him to be leaving behind his nearly 40 years of service as an educator and reflected on the “voyage” of the last five years. 

“Now, after all these years of trying to steer by the stars, I have come to my journey’s end as a president and professor. This is my last port of call as an educator. ‘Home is the sailor, home from the sea,’” he said, quoting the famed poet and author Robert Louis Stevenson. 

“I leave confident that BYUH will sail on, ably guided by a new helmsman who takes the helm at a difficult time when the university is sailing in uncharted waters. Please be patient with him as he learns the ropes. He will prove to be a remarkable captain.” 

I leave confident that BYUH will sail on, ably guided by a new helmsman who takes the helm at a difficult time.
President John Tanner

Susan Tanner recounted experiences of losing her father and mother while she and her husband served at BYUH. She explained the love and aloha she felt from her “Hawaiian ohana” gave her peace during those difficult times.

“We have been touched and changed by you, the angels of BYUH, and Laie. Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for the aloha you have showered upon us … We are sad to be leaving you, but feel comfort in the knowledge that we will meet again, and that we will be forever bonded.” 

Marilyn and Aaron White, parents of two BYUH alumni and a current student, said they were thankful the Tanners were a part of their children’s education. They explained their children are the first in their family to receive college degrees. 

“[We are] a little sad to see [the Tanners] go but happy to know they will be on to other endeavors in their lives,” says the Whites in a email response. “They did a great job at BYUH, [especially] how they started the Holokai Program that allowed our children to attend BYUH and graduate with degrees.” 

Following the Tanners’ remarks, incoming university president, John Kauwe and his wife, Monica, introduced themselves and shared their thoughts and experiences with education. 

Monica Kauwe said she learned the importance of obtaining an education as a young child, after watching her father work hard and sacrifice money, time and sleep as he studied to become a nurse. 

She added that her education continued into her marriage as she worked toward an associate’s degree in chemistry and then worked for two years in the pharmaceutical industry before having her first child. 

“I loved my work in chemistry, but I strongly felt that it was time to begin a whole new phase of my education: motherhood. 

“Having five children has taught me that no two people are alike.” She said she has learned valuable life lessons gained through parenting their five children ages 2 to 13. 

John Kauwe shared his commitment to the mission of BYUH in the blending of spiritual and secular knowledge. 

“BYUH gathers people across countries and kingdoms and creates unity in spiritual and secular education like no other institution on Earth. The mission of this university hinges on that education readying us to lead and build.” 

He shared he comes from Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Maori and Northern European ancestry. He grew up between Utah and Hawaii and served in the Fukuoka Japan Mission. 

He said he has worked with and mentored people from around the world. “I have found that when people from different backgrounds unite in a single purpose, wonderful things happen. I believe that when we unite in a prophetic purpose, miracles happen. 

I believe that when we unite in a prophetic purpose, miracles happen.
President Keoni Keawe

“Diversity and unity work together here at BYUH in remarkable ways. I am deeply committed to building on past efforts to prepare our students with knowledge and testimony sufficient to make them ‘men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.’” 

John Kauwe smiles in a suit and purple tie with patterns on it.