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Campus & Community

John S.K. Kauwe III: A Native Son of Hawaii inaugurated as president of BYU–Hawaii

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Silence prevailed as President and Sister Kauwe, Elder and Sister Holland and Elder and Sister Christofferson, among others, walked into the Cannon Activities Center. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best as President Kauwe was inaugurated as the 11th and youngest president of BYU–Hawaii on Oct. 19, 2021.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of the Church Educational System, conducted the meeting. The event started off with a musical number, “From This School,” performed by the BYUH Concert Choir, composed and directed by Erica Glenn and accompanied by Stacy McCarrey on the piano.

Greetings to the president were given by Cy M. Bridges, the community representative and grandfather in the community. He then chanted and spoke in Hawaiian.

The faculty was represented by Tevita Ka’ili, dean of the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts. In his remarks, he said the faculty commits to “working collaboratively across campus and with students … to achieve a high caliber of academic excellence through [President Kauwe's] vision of sustainability.” He emphasized the faculty is committed to seeking “for unity, diversity, inclusion and equity” under President Kauwe's leadership.

The student representative was Savaira Veikoso, the student manager of clubs. She said she did not know “old men could skate” until she met the newly inaugurated president. She later referred to both President and Sister Kauwe as the parents of the BYUH family and thanked them for inviting the students into their home, keeping them safe from COVID-19 and allowing them to come back to campus.

The alumni representative Justine Tavana, who graduated from BYUH in 2003, stated, “The Kauwes’ love for [others] is evident in the way they serve.” She said the alumni place their full confidence in President Kauwe and know his “impact will be felt for good for many generations to come.”

After reviewing President Kauwe’s life, Elder Gilbert said, “Today, we inaugurate a bright, educated and administratively capable president, but above all, we inaugurate a president who wants to do what the Lord directs him to do.”

President John S. K. Kauwe III was then inaugurated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who stated, “In doing so, I confer upon you all the rights, responsibilities, authority and prerogatives necessary to act as the University's chief executive officer, its institutional spokesman and overseer of its assets. I also confer upon you the responsibility to be the University’s chief moral and spiritual officer, this being the most important and most demanding of all your duties as president of this University.”

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President Kauwe's second cousin, Kiana Serrao, a junior from Utah majoring in biology, said after the ceremony, “Once Elder Holland officially inaugurated President Kauwe, I felt the Spirit change. It was so cool.”

The newly inaugurated President Kauwe then addressed students, faculty, his family and friends with a parable of blackberries. When living in Utah, he said he and his family grew blackberries. By working hard, they saw and enjoyed the fruit of their labors, he added.

“Unfortunately, blackberries don’t grow well in Laie,” President Kauwe explained. “They simply require [a] different climate. Knowing this, it would be a waste of time and resources to focus on growing blackberries in Hawaii,” he continued.

“Fortunately, there are many fruits from all over the world that can’t be grown in Utah, but they thrive here,” such as mangoes, said President Kauwe. Likewise, he said, “Students and programs that thrive here in Laie may not succeed so readily in Provo or Rexburg. ... Students and programs that are thriving in those places may not do so here in Laie.”

The growth of BYUH will also be seen in new buildings and training for students, said President Kauwe. The University’s success will be measured “by faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility and diligence. Obtaining these outcomes will leave no doubt that every dollar and every ounce of effort spent on this University was well spent,” he explained, emphasizing how the mission of the University is to help people follow Jesus Christ.

Throughout his speech, his repeated theme was, “Together, we will continue this work, and we will succeed.”

In his closing remarks, President Kauwe extended an invitation to all faculty, staff and students, urging them “to prayerfully ponder how [they] can fulfill [their] role in this important effort.”

Elder Holland then addressed the crowd. He emphasized the mission of BYUH and how its role within the CES schools is to focus on the “Pacific Asia oriented area of the Church.” The number of students accepted from the mainland must be monitored, he added.

“What we’ve done in the past has led us marvelously to this day, but in no way is it sufficient for the trajectory the Church and the University are now on.” He added the goal should be to serve more students in less time.

His next words were, “Every now and then … school is supposed to just be fun. Now, most days you won't think that, but today is one of those. So I command all of you, I am in charge today.”

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Seth Thomsen, a senior studying business finance from Mililani, Hawaii, said the inauguration was “full of energy, especially when Elder Holland said he wanted us to have fun.”

Elder Holland continued, “We have looked far and wide to find the best to lead out in this next chapter of the quest. We have found him, who will be the youngest president ever to serve here, and a true native son of these beautiful islands of his ancestors. ... For me, that may be the most significant indicator of the growth and maturity of this University of all the indicators that we are celebrating today.”

Amelia Meli, a senior majoring in biology from Kaimuki, Hawaii, described the inauguration as “historic” because of all of the cultures that come together at BYUH under a native Hawaiian president.

Maria Fonoimoana Latu, a longtime community member who works at the Academic Multimedia Lab, said after the ceremony, “It is an amazing day for our campus. … It is such an honor we have somebody that’s [Hawaii's] own [as president]. The Spirit there this morning was indescribable.”

At the end of the inauguration ceremony, President Kauwe said he feels humbled because he and his family know they are meant to be serving at BYUH, and they feel support from both Church leaders and individual students.