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Vice President of Academics Isaiah Walker says David O. McKay carried out a vision of racial equality ahead of his time

Isaiah Walker standing at the BYUH pulpit giving his devotional address. He is wearing a grey suit jacket, white shirt, and sage green tie. He has a purple lei around his neck. Both of his hands are on the sides of the pulpit and he has a smile on his face.
Vice President Isaiah Walker gave the first devotional address of Winter Semester 2022.

In the first campus devotional of 2022, Academic Vice President Isaiah Walker said in addition to feeling a sense of pride in the opportunities provided by the American ideals of equality, McKay also celebrated the divine concept of unity and diversity.

In 1921, Walker explained much of the United States had legalized racial segregation, including within the school system. In 1954, the same year McKay fulfilled his vision by dedicating the Church College of Hawaii, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional in America.

“In many ways,” Walker shared, “David O. McKay was ahead of his time and forward in this thinking by establishing a racially integrated diverse college at this time.” Walker added McKay saw education as a key to unlocking the potential in unexpected future leaders.

He added he is convinced McKay’s experience at the flag raising ceremony, held at the Church’s elementary school in Laie on Feb. 7, 1921, in which he witnessed 127 children from various nationalities participating in the ceremony, is what enabled McKay to see unity and diversity in the gospel and opened his eyes to the future of the entire church.

“When [McKay] looked at that ‘motley group of youngsters’ all thrown into a so-called melting pot, Elder McKay explained, ‘My bosom swelled with emotion and tears came to my eyes and I felt like bowing in prayer and thanksgiving.’”

Jeremy Hawkins, a junior from American Samoa majoring in social work, said in his vision, McKay did not only see people from all over the world gathered in one specific place, but he also saw their potential and what they can become if they receive a proper education.

A BYUH legacy

Hawkins said the reality of McKay’s vision had a great and powerful impact in his life while attending BYUH. “BYUH is a very special place. If President McKay never received this vision or never acted upon it, I would have never been the person I am today.”

Hawkins said studying at BYUH and working as a tour guide at the Polynesian Cultural Center led him closer to God and his children from all over the place. While BYUH offers numerous opportunities to the students to live in an environment where they can live their own culture, he said they also have the privilege of living the gospel and acquiring both an education and work experiences.

“I do not know any other schools which provide an education where all cultures are welcomed and experienced through spectacular events such as culture nights. … As part of our lives, BYUH will forever live with us.”

Under McKay’s leadership, Walker said the Church grew exponentially and internationally. Walker added McKay emphasized the focus of stakes of Zion around the globe rather than one single gathering place, a mindset Walker said he believed was shaped by McKay’s experience in Laie in 1921.

“To me,” Walker declared, “the story of BYUH’s origin is inextricably linked to the expansion of the Church internationally.”

Heima Tching, a junior from Tahiti majoring in applied mathematics, said McKay’s vision is a reminder to act upon any received promptings or inspiration. “Despite 34 years of waiting before his vision became a reality, President McKay accomplished God’s will by obeying the promptings he received. … Today, I am grateful to be part of it and to benefit from the blessing of his vision.”

A picture of the projector screen in the Cannon Activities Center, where an old photo of David O. McKay is seen, holding a shovel, surrounded by a diverse group of children and men in suits.
Isaiah Walker said the BYUH community today is part of McKay's vision.

Turning vision to reality

Walker also shared the story of a native Hawaiian, Ethel Helani Whitford Almodova, the first director of registrar and admissions in 1954, who, Walker explained, played a critical role in her faculty position as she was given only two months to recruit new students.

“In a short amount of time, Ethel successfully recruited over 150 students from the Hawaiian Islands. These students were so anxious and blessed to enroll in a college that was affordable, close by and, most importantly, tailored specifically for them by a prophet of God.”

He shared a quote by Almodova, whose nephew’s wife is the current registrar, in which she detailed all the islands she visited in order to recruit students for the newly beginning Church College of Hawaii. Today, Almodova is living in St. George, Utah and is about to celebrate her 90th birthday, Walker shared.

“[Almodova’s] story is important to the founding of this University and reminds us prophetic visions are often executed by unsung heroes. People like [Almodova] transformed McKay’s vision into reality.”

In McKay’s prophecy, Walker explained, he reminds the faculty to align with his vision and have a testimony the Lord has his hand over this place. Walker invited the current BYUH faculty to recognize the light of excellence in each of the students.

He encouraged students to believe in themselves and surround themselves with faculty and peers who foster that belief. “Then, work hard in your studies and contribute to learning by sharing your ‘ike, or knowledge.”

Tching said McKay’s faith and leadership is a great inspiration for her. “Whenever God is involved, we cannot fail no matter how long the wait is.”

Walker concluded, “Although President McKay’s vision is 100 years old, we are still living in the middle of it.”