On Sunday, Feb. 10, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held an event at its Institute of Religion for students at the University of Utah. The chapel of the building was full, along with the overflow, gym and another adjacent chapel. Everyone braved the snow to come to the Institute to hear what the U’s President, Ruth Watkins and president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, M. Russell Ballard, had to say.
Before the event started, excitement was in the air as attendees patiently waited for the pair to speak. Silence came over the room as everyone stood to allow Ballard and Watkins to enter the chapel. The silence continued as the event started and the Salt Lake University Institute Singers sang “Lead Kindly Light.”
Jenna Hunsaker, the president of the Latter-day Saint Student Association at the U, conducted the meeting. She thanked everyone who was in attendance, as well as the two speakers and other Church leaders who were present.
Ballard stood up after Hunsaker to introduce Watkins. He expressed that the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency of the Church sent their love. He said that the listeners had the “privilege and honor to have the sixteenth president of the University of Utah be President Watkins” and her unwavering support for the faculty and students to continue to succeed at the U. Ballard mistakenly began to say that Watkins started her tenure as president in the 18-somethings, then corrected himself by saying she began in spring 2018, causing the audience to laugh. He finished his introduction by telling Watkins that he was “interested for you to meet the best of the best of your students,” before joking that if they were not to give him their names and numbers, and he would deal with it personally.
Watkins then spoke, and began by continuing with Ballard’s mistake saying, “It has only been a year but feels like it’s been since 18-something.” She expressed her appreciation for the Institute and said she thought that her speaking that night was “meant to be,” because her father had recently passed away and the choir sang his favorite hymn. Not originally from Utah, Watkins— who identified herself as a Lutheran— gave some background of her life prior to the U. She is originally from Iowa and came to the U from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When Watkins moved to Utah, she said her neighbors welcomed her with food and she decided that “Utah is more Midwest than the Midwest.”
The president spent most of her time speaking about the importance of the Institute on campus in promoting student success, community and to help students figure out who they are and want to become. She announced that at the next Red White & U day, an event held for students trying to decide if they want to come to the U, there will be a collaborative event with the Institute for prospective students to learn more about the religious community there.
Watkins concluded by saying that she “want[s] every student to see what’s possible at the Institute” because she said that the U encourages religious and spiritual exploration and expression. She said that Utah should be proud of its values and “continue to build the community around us.”
After the choir sang “I Believe in Christ,” it was time for Ballard to speak. He walked up to the podium before turning and walking back towards his seat and then back to the podium again. He said “I’ve got to have my glasses, in case I say something worthwhile,” another joke that got a laugh from those in attendance. He thanked the Institute leaders and read from the Doctrine and Covenants— one of the faith’s books of scripture— about revelation received by LDS prophet Joseph Smith in 1892. He then said, “This is why I got confused with the years earlier.”
Watkins’ and Ballard’s speeches were both along the lines of creating community and seeking knowledge. Ballard told Institute students to work on building “the kingdom of God.” He also expressed that for students, it is extremely important to obtain an education and be good at whatever they pursue. While doing that, he said one should ask, “What is my purpose for being here at this time in this world?” Ballard said that everything in this life “is all preparatory.”
Ballard expressed his belief that everyone is a son or daughter of God and that he “wants you to be happy and successful but also to stay focused on what matters most.” He encouraged the audience to live in a way that others will notice that there is something special in their lives that those individuals will want to be a part of.
Ballard encouraged students to seek their spiritual side and destinies, and said that “can only be found in our scriptures.”
Ballard told the students that they should look for opportunities to help others. According to Ballard, the best advice was given “by Jesus Christ— come unto me.”
He said at the U, students are not just learning to perform a profession but also to find out who they are.
Ballard also told the congregation that if they have any sins they are struggling with, he is “duty-bound to say unto you to fix it” by repenting.
He finished by saying “may God bless [students]” to know who they are, be bold, bring someone to Institute, find peace where they have concerns and handle difficulties.