The sun was setting over the David O. McKay Classroom Building on Nov. 1 as students and the BYU–Hawaii Genuine Gold Society joined the President’s Council and LDS Philanthropies for the President’s Dinner, an evening designed to acknowledge the donors and allow them to see the difference they are making in the lives of BYUH students.
A warm, yellow glow filled the white tents set up between the David O. McKay Foyer and the Flag Circle as the sky became dark and rain began to fall. Students mingled with donors, taking pictures and sharing their individual stories. John S. Tanner, president of BYUH, said, “This is a very special place on the campus. I would invite you to reflect on this site. We have in front of us the mural that tells the beginning of the university… The other thing I want you to pay attention to is this beautiful Flag Circle. These two areas are the great icons of the university.
“I love the Flag Circle for what it represents. It does say immediately that this is an international university, but there’s a deeper symbolism for me in this Flag Circle. It says to me all the nations of the world are part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We bring them all together and none of the flags are higher than another flag.”
Dinner was followed by a special performance on the guzheng by Emily Shek, a senior from Hong Kong majoring in music, after which four IWORK students spoke. Each student shared stories from their lives, including their conversion stories, how they met their spouse, and how they ended up at BYUH. Each student who spoke expressed deep gratitude for the donors, sharing how they would not be able to come to BYUH if it weren’t for their generous contributions. Pres. Tanner then closed the evening with a final thanks to the donors.
Vidya Tamang, a sophomore from India majoring in TESOL education, explained how she and her husband joined the church and met in a YSA ward. She said they both were called to be YSA representatives and after a few months of knowing each other he proposed. She said, “After he proposed we started dating. After a lengthy courtship of two and a half months we were married, and one month later we were sealed in the Manila Philippines Temple.”
She said after they got to know each other more they realized they both wanted to pursue their education. She said both of their parents were very insistent they further their education, and if they could, they would help with it. She explained how in India you have to choose between work and education, and they were already working to support their families. They looked into every website and service to help them, but had no luck for several years. After several struggles, they began to believe education was not for them.
“Then comes some angels to our city. And we are humbled to be able to be sitting at a table with some of them.” She explained how Pres. Tanner, along with others, came to announce the IWORK program being reopened in India. “Sometimes you have to pay attention or wait a while for the Holy Ghost to give you an answer to your prayers, but this answer was right in our face. There was no second-guessing it. I remember running up to President Tanner and asking him, ‘Does age matter?’ He smiled at me and said, ‘nope.’ Then there was no turning back.
“The more we learned about how the IWORK program works, the more humbled we were. We were amazed there are people in the world today willing to be the instruments Heavenly Father wants them to be, the hands helping people they don’t know, the hands blessing people’s lives they don’t know.”
Job Akau, a freshman from the Solomon Islands majoring in English education, was visibly emotional throughout the beginning of his speech. He shared how the opportunity to come to BYUH not only allowed him and his wife to further their education, but it also allowed their family to be sealed in the temple.
After asking each of the donors and administration to raise their hands, Akau said, “Thank you so much. I am not here to make a nice speech, as others might expect. I am here to open up my heart and tell you this: on behalf of our families, with the rest of our friends from other countries, I stand here to say our thanks, to acknowledge you once again. Without you helping us we wouldn’t have our goals met. And even for my family, we would not be able to be sealed in the temple.”
Samedy Meas, a sophomore from Cambodia majoring in business, said coming to BYUH was a dream of hers, but she never thought she would actually get the chance to come. She explained, “After my mission, I applied for BYU-Hawaii. BYU-Hawaii is my dream. I wanted to study here so much, because Cambodia is a developing country. I never imagined I would get the chance to be here in the United States, but the IWORK program gave me the opportunity to come here to study and experience new things… I have everything.”
George Paroi, a freshman majoring in English, who is the first IWORK student at BYUH from Bangladesh, said his country is only 0.03 percent Christian. He said when he was five his father died and he was sent to live in an orphanage, because his mother could not afford to take care of all four of her children.
Paroi emotionally shared his experience in the orphanage, saying, “In the orphanage it was very difficult. There were a lot of trials. The food was poor. It was sometimes full of insects. We cannot eat that. Today I am very grateful to Heavenly Father that He was with me there. Though my father left me, my Heavenly Father didn’t leave me. He was guiding me… I was deprived of affection from my parents. Ten years I was in the orphanage.”
Paroi shared how in the orphanage he was taught from the Bible, but when he tried to be baptized, he was told he was too young to truly understand and be baptized. After moving away to find work, Paroi met a Latter-day Saint named Isaac, who invited him to come to church. He was baptized soon after, and he quickly began sharing the gospel with those in Bangladesh. He said the Holy Ghost helped him to have no fear in sharing the gospel and allowed him to baptize three people before coming to BYUH.
Paroi said, “I am trying to be good at English. I have chosen this subject because I want to improve my English more and more. I have a strong desire to translate the Book of Mormon into my language so I can share the gospel easily in my country. Most of us do not know English very well. The gospel will spread out very well and people will be able to know the truth.”
Emily Shek performed a traditional Chinese song on the guzheng. She explained how the song talked about, “a woman really missing her family.” Shek explained the special technique unique to the guzheng, saying, “Normally you press with three fingers, but with this song I press with my thumb and my three fingers together. This special technique is used to describe a woman missing her family. She is emotional.”
Pres. Tanner closed the evening by saying, “This university has such a special mission to proclaim that message to the world and send out people across this world who love their brothers and sisters and who love God. Thank you for your contributions to help our mission move forward. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”