Brimhall essay contest celebrates Gerrit de Jong, Jr.


The Brimhall essay contest happens every year around Homecoming. It is an opportunity for students to show their appreciation for BYU founders who made BYU what it is today.

The contest started in the early 1990s when the university invited the Brimhall family descendants to Homecoming. They were impressed with the celebrations taking place and did not want the celebrations to stop with their ancestor. They felt students should learn more about the school’s founders, so they set up an endowment to cover the costs of the essay contest.

This year the Brimhall contest encourages students to reflect on ideals like those of  Gerrit de Jong Jr., the first dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications. Essays must include personal reflections, this year’s homecoming theme (“Hold High the Torch”) and a connection to de Jong.

De Jong grew up in Holland, where his parents owned a fabric store. Charlene Winters, senior editor at Alumni Relations, told a story about de Jong’s mother. Winters said de Jong’s mother knew her bright son needed to do more than work in a fabric shop. One night their store burned down; consequently, the family moved to America. They ended up in Salt Lake because de Jong’s aunt lived there and had recently been converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most students recognize de Jong from the de Jong Concert Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center. His passion for music began when he received a piano for his birthday as a child. Despite desperately wanting a bicycle instead, de Jong was determined to learn to play. He went on to author the hymn “Come Sing to the Lord” in the LDS hymn book and also sang and played in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, according to Winters.

While music was an important part of de Jong’s life, he spent most of his career teaching language classes, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Portuguese.” He earned degrees in Spanish and French from the University of Utah, a Ph.D. in German from Standford University and later learned Chinese and Portuguese.

He was fluent in multiple languages, but his experience with Portuguese prompted the Church to invite him to translate the temple ceremony into Portuguese.

De Jong was interested in everything and sought out opportunities to learn.

“He was known as the ‘Renaissance Man,'” Winters said. “He would do everything from the highest academics to having a garden and painting his house and working on shingles. Everything fascinated him.”

This year’s Homecoming theme is “Hold High the Torch,” a line from an address de Jong gave to the graduates of the College of Humanities in 1966.

“Be a living example,” he said. “Hold high the torch. Act … as one who has discovered some of the best of man’s thoughts and creations.”

The first place winner will receive $1,500, followed by $750 for second place and $500 for third.

The entry deadline is Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. Winners will be notified by Sept. 29. The winning essay will be published in BYU Magazine and will be read at the Homecoming opening ceremonies. More information for the essay guidelines is available on the BYU Alumni Association website.

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