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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, June 21, 2003

Mormon leader to address grads

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with his wife, Marjorie, in 1999.

Advertiser Library photo

Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will receive an honorary doctorate and give the keynote address at tonight's BYU-Hawai'i graduation in the Cannon Activities Center on the La'ie campus.

Hinckley, who turns 94 on Monday, is on a return trip from New Zealand and Australia, where he dedicated a newly completed temple in Brisbane. He also stopped along the way in other Pacific Islands, Vanuatu and some of the Christmas Islands, said BYU-Hawai'i president Eric B. Shumway.

Immediately after the graduation address, he heads back to Salt Lake City, where he oversees the 11-million-member church.

"This is a very important time for us," Shumway said. "Besides being the president of the church, he's also on the board of education. He's a highly educated man himself. He deeply believes education is at the heart of human progress. He has a very profound feeling for the people of Hawai'i. ... It is a rare treat for graduates of any of our church universities to have a prophet speak at their graduation."

Hinckley, who has led the church since 1995 and has traveled to more than 60 countries, in 1999 and 2000 was chosen as one of the most admired men in the world by Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll. He also wrote "Standing for Something," with a foreword by journalist Mike Wallace.

BYU-Hawai'i will bestow an honorary doctorate degree of Christian service and leadership, honoris causa, to Hinckley for "his efforts in providing aid to many countries in times of natural disasters and his endless contributions, particularly in Asia and the Pacific," according to an earlier statement from Shumway.

Hinckley was born June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Utah and then served two years as a full-time missionary for the church in Britain. He and his wife, Marjorie Pay, have five children, 25 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.

No stranger to the Islands, his last visit to Hawai'i was in 2000. At the time, he told members, "I'm 90 years old. I don't know if I'll get back to Hawai'i again," according to Rob Wakefield, director of university communications for BYU-Hawai'i.

Wakefield said, "We're just thrilled, because we're just amazed at the energy and drive and leadership he offers to us on a daily basis, especially considering his age. He's a real inspiration to us."

Students are also excited.

"We haven't had the president of the church attend the commencement to be the speaker for a while, so having him is a great opportunity for the graduates to be in his presence and to hear his words that he has to share," said Jannifer Lesuma, 23, BYU-Hawaii student body president. "We believe in living prophets and President Hinckley is the living prophet of the church today and we believe God's message is given through him."

She saw him during a visit to Fiji in 1997, when he spoke to church members there.

"He has this presence that he brings along that leaves everyone in awe," she said.