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Commemorating the flag raising ceremony: David O. McKay’s vision blessed students' lives, others before them

Twelve people stand holding up their countries flags with the David O. Mckay's flag-raising mural behind them.

The creation of BYU–Hawaii was envisioned by President David O. McKay 100 years ago on Feb. 7, 1921 at a flag raising ceremony at the Laie Elementary School. At the groundbreaking and dedication of the Church College of Hawaii, later BYUH, President McKay said, “This is the beginning of the realization of a vision I saw 34 years ago when one morning ... I witnessed a flag raising ceremony by students of the Church school … in Laie,” according to the foundational speech on BYUH’s website.

In the book “Miracle in the Pacific,” it describes the ceremony where 127 children, ages seven to 14, were all lined up. William Ka’a’a, a full-blooded Hawaiian, stepped out and said,
“Hats off!

Along the street there comes

A blare of bugles,

A ruffle of drums,

A splash of color beneath the sky,

Hats off! The flag is passing by.”

Continuing the ceremony, Thomas Waddoups, a young haole, spoke:

“Now raise the starry banner up,

Emblem of our country’s glory,

And teach the children of this land

Its grave and wondrous story;

Of how in early times it waved

High o’er the Continentals,

Who fought and made our country free,

The one true home of liberty.”

Black and white photo of children raising up the American flag  with a building and the Laie Hawaii Temple behind them.

As the flag reached the top of the flag pole, Otokochi Matsumoto, a Japanese boy, continued the chant:

“Salute the flag, oh children,

With grave and reverent hand,

For it means far more than the eye can see,

Your home and your native land.

And many have died for its crimson bars,

Its field of blue with the spangled stars.”

The whole crowd, children and adults, then joined in unison, echoing the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards, William Ka’a’a concluded by saying,

“This flag that now waves o’er our school,

Protecting weak and strong,

Is the flag that vindicates the right

And punishes the wrong.”

The book says McKay was touched by the ceremony, and he later wrote, “That ceremony brought tears to my eyes. Truly the melting pot. ... What an example in this little place of the purposes of our Father in Heaven to unite all peoples by the gospel of Jesus Christ. … That was a Church school, and we visualized the possibilities of making this … the center of the education of the people of these islands.”

Kierra Lopis, a junior from Taiwan majoring in TESOL, said, “I always feel the Holy Spirit when I read the dedicatory prayer of President David O. McKay. I feel very honored to be part of the fulfillment of his vision. At the same time, I feel privileged to be here to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the McKay flag raising ceremony.”

In an article by Church News, it says, “[President McKay] saw an institution of higher learning that would bring students together from all across the globe, and then send them back as learners, leaders and builders in their respective countries.”

Fulfillment of McKay’s vision

Thirty-four years later, President McKay’s vision began to come to life on Feb. 12, 1955, he explained in his speech. In his dedicatory prayer, he blessed the school to produce genuine gold students “whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally,” according to BYUH Archives. International Student Advisor Ted Guildner said, “Since the school was established, BYUH educated students from over 100 different countries.” He explained, on average, there are students from 70 to 72 different countries each semester.

Otgonbileg Bataa, a junior from Mongolia majoring in finance, said, “McKay’s vision and creation of BYUH blessed so many people’s lives. Thousands of BYUH alumni living around the world make this world a better place continually, just like he prophesied.”

Black and white photo of David O. Mckay and his wife standing with over 50 leis around their neck and on their arms.
President David O. McKay and his wife upon their reception in Hawaii.

Tyson Hunter, a Fall 2020 finance graduate from California, said David O. McKay’s vision, at the time, must have seemed far-fetched to those around him. “With travel not being nearly as accessible as it is today and not to mention it wasn’t even a state yet, it is incredible that he had so much faith in the vision he had and the prophecy that left his lips.

“It is amazing to see what the Lord has done and is doing to fulfill that prophecy as the Church expands to more countries. Laie provides a place for many people to come to school to gain education and increase their faith.”

Hunter said it shows that God has no bounds, and the prophets’ words will come to pass. “I look forward to seeing how this prophecy will continue to unfold, and I am so happy I get to be a part of it.”

Former president of BYUH, John Tanner, said, “I see a Zion university, a place where people from many nations learn together in purity, peace, unity and love.”

Lopis shared, “Because we are all determined to gain an education, God has brought us here from different countries. Just like the devotional talk, ‘We Are the Vision,’ given by Kieiki and Paliku Kahalepuna in 2005, I can feel that I am part of his vision. Everyone who comes to study here is part of his vision.”

Tomoyuki Akiyama, a Fall 2020 marketing graduate from Japan, said, “I witnessed students from all over the world studying here in harmony. They improve and learn together at BYUH despite their differences. They teach me how important the gospel is and education is.”

Remembering the mission

Bataa shared he passes by the flag circle every time he goes to work and sees the flags and mosaic mural, which helps him remember the significance of McKay’s vision and his duty to fulfill it. “I believe the reason why the mural displays the flag raising ceremony is to remind us of the importance of BYUH’s mission revealed by his vision a hundred years ago. The flag circle in front of it symbolizes the diversity and the unity of the school.”

Akiyama said, as a new graduate, he is excited to work in Japan and serve his people with the knowledge and wisdom he gained at BYUH. “We always need to remember President McKay’s vision and blessings so we won’t forget why we are here and what we are supposed to do after our graduation.”

Lopis shared, “We always should commemorate the many great events and sacrifices that have been made by people in the past to prepare this land for this purpose. We also should remember how God prepares us to sustain our personal lives, families and homeland by being educated in His way so we can strengthen His Kingdom in our countries in the future.”

Bataa stressed, “I can testify that the hands of God are always on this school campus. I am so grateful to be here with my small family and be part of his magnificent vision.”

In an article by Deseret News about the mosaic, it says, “The grand mosaic depiction of President David O. McKay at the flag-raising ceremony … resonates in the hearts of all who understand the prophetic mission of the University.”

BYUH Archives records show that the mosaic mural was built in Italy and sent to Laie in crates and put together by community members.