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President's Report: Because They Know

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Portrait of Ensign College President Bruce C. KuschBy President Bruce C. Kusch

When I was a new missionary serving in a small branch in the western highlands of Guatemala, my senior companion was Elder Jorge Solano from San José, Costa Rica.

I loved and admired Elder Solano, and I learned many important lessons from him. He was a great teacher of the gospel. He had a great sense of humor, and he was a captivating storyteller. Everyone loved him. But above all, Elder Solano was deeply committed to being the best missionary that he could be, and he took his responsibility seriously to be an obedient, worthy representative of Jesus Christ.

I was committed to my pledge to worthily represent the Savior. But one Saturday morning, Elder Solano helped me see that I didn’t yet understand what it meant to be committed to live to a higher standard and to keep the promise I had made as a missionary to represent Christ at all times and in all places.

Our little branch had organized an activity to hike to a beautiful area that was about five kilometers from town, where we would play games and have lunch, then return by mid-afternoon. In my young missionary mind, I reasoned that going on a hike meant wearing hiking clothes. To my surprise Elder Solano got dressed in everyday missionary proselyting clothes. As I recall, we looked at each other about the same time and said, “Why are you dressed like that?” I explained my logic and Elder Solano wasn’t convinced. I will admit that I was not very happy that Elder Solano did not accept my explanation. And then he asked me a powerful and inspired question that changed my mission: “Elder Kusch, don’t you want to look like a representative and servant of Jesus Christ?”

Now, I confess, I don’t remember much about that branch activity. But what I do remember is that it’s not that bad wearing a white shirt and tie on a 10-kilometer round-trip hike. And most important, I gained valuable understanding that continues to bless my life today. For many reasons, I will never forget Elder Jorge Solano, and this one experience is forever etched deeply in my soul. I believe I was a better missionary because I learned an important lesson about humility and obedience. In that moment with Elder Solano, I was at first neither humble nor obedient. I lacked understanding and initially I was not meek or teachable.

Speaking at the presidential inauguration of former Ensign College president Stephen K. Woodhouse, President Henry B. Eyring said, “If we wish to learn by receiving light, we must live so that the Atonement works in our lives to make us clean and able to receive the light. That helps explain why a college president would care . . . about such personal things as what students wear and how they and their teachers feel about keeping the commandments of God. To some, those would appear as details having nothing to do with education. But they have everything to do with education. Our vision is that the sacrifice of students and of teachers to learn and to teach is immeasurably more likely to bear fruit if the student and the teacher are bathed in the light of Christ. And that light is either invited or turned away by the lives we lead.”

“Let us be a college community of covenant keepers, capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.”
—President Bruce C. Kusch

On August 24, 2023, the Church Board of Education approved updates to the Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement, the Honor Code, and the Dress and Grooming Standards. The news release announcing the updates states, “The updates are principle-based, provide consistency across CES institutions, and better align student endorsement interviews with Church leaders’ ecclesiastical responsibilities. The changes are designed to help students grow closer to Jesus Christ and strengthen the overall student experience.”

The updates are principle-based. There is great power in understanding how to identify principles and then live by them. Students’ ability to identify and live by true principles will be the key to living in harmony with these updates. The updated guidelines and standards are based upon truth and gospel principles, and they provide inspired anchors to each person in the righteous exercise of moral agency.

Because the specificity of past dress and grooming standards is gone, learning to identify true gospel principles and apply them in the righteous exercise of our moral agency is the key to living in harmony with every word that comes from the Lord and His ordained prophets, seers, and revelators. The next time students are interviewed for their ecclesiastical endorsements, the discussion questions will focus on their personal spiritual development. With the exception of dress and grooming expectations, the Honor Code remains the same but adds language regarding same-sex romantic behavior that is consistent with Church teachings. Dress and grooming standards, which are part of the Honor Code, have undergone significant updates to make them consistent across all CES institutions.

The intent of these updates is to bring this campus closer to Christ. As a young, inexperienced Elder Kusch serving in that little branch so many years ago, I thought it was no big deal to wear hiking clothes on a hike. Elder Solano set the example of one willing to live to a higher standard. He had promised to represent Jesus Christ and His Church at all times and in all places. And that meant he would always look like a missionary should look and he would always act like a missionary should act. That experience changed me forever and taught me the importance of turning my heart to Christ. Just like the students at Ensign College, we can commit to living a higher standard by turning our hearts to Christ. Let us be a college community of covenant keepers, capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.

This message is adapted from “Governed by Principles and Righteous Desires,” a devotional address given by President Kusch on September 12, 2023.

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