BYU should be the warmest and most inviting campus on the earth according to Neal Cox, associate dean of students and speaker at Tuesday’s campus devotional.
Cox expressed concern for those in “Happy Valley” who are lonely and not experiencing as much joy as they could be. He drew a connection to the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni who also felt friendless at times. The difference between Moroni’s time and present day, though, is that there is a greater population of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now. Cox believes, because of that, there is a greater responsibility to serve those around us, especially if students themselves are the ones who feel lonely.
Quoting a student he mentored, Cox said, “You need to get outside yourself and find a way to serve.”
Cox quoted Richard J. Light, a researcher who studies college students. According to Light, college students have their most memorable experiences outside of the classroom. For those concerned about not having time to look outside themselves and serve, Light also found that those who do volunteer work have slightly better grades than those who do not.
BYU provides extensive opportunities for students to look outside themselves and serve those around them. Cox explored several of the service options available to BYU students and encouraged them to participate.
“I would add that campus clubs, the Y-Serve office and Student Leadership programs at BYU are wonderful ways to find service opportunities and thus have positive interactions with other students,” Cox said. “If you feel such a need, these programs beckon you!”
According to Cox, serving others is one of the best ways students can fellowship their peers.
“As we fellowship or befriend others, we can also rejoice with them and have great joy,” Cox said.
Cox illustrated his point by telling a story about missionary work. As a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in Tokyo, Japan, Cox lacked experience learning another language; but he managed to learn simple phrases.
According to Cox, his companion taught him a new Japanese phrase to use while handing out flyers with gospel messages on them: “Dozo, o yomi ni natte kudasai,” which Cox’s companion told him was more formal language for what he was already saying. Later Cox learned the phrase was actually a marriage proposal, which he had extended to hundreds of Japanese businessmen that day.
“Yes, we risk failure or embarrassment when we approach others, but it is the right thing to do,” Cox said.
Cox spoke of his belief in missionary work because missionaries from the Church shared the gospel with his great great grandfather. He tearfully explained his gratitude for them, saying that there is a chance he would not be giving this talk if those missionaries had not opened their mouths and shared what they knew to be true.
Cox explored why it is often hard to approach and talk to people we do not yet know, even on BYU campus.
“The actions of many bespeak their apparent belief that eye contact has been outlawed in Provo,” Cox said. “Others hide behind an electronic shield, a hindrance to potential contact that would enhance their lives and bring blessings to self and others. Too many on our campus spend time inspecting the sidewalks rather than looking up to find the potential friends who surround them.”
Cox encouraged students to make BYU the warmest and most inviting campus on earth. He shared a short video put together by students at BYU to encourage students to serve their peers.
The video, produced and provided by Redefine Service, an organization nested in the BYU student association, can be found here. The video shares messages about making BYU a community campus, giving encouraging words to others and redefining service among students.
Cox shared a sentiment written by Stephen Covey in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” that service begins with the individual. Cox then shared examples from Jesus Christ’s life and said the Savior himself looked for ways to be with others and students should not miss out on opportunities to serve others.
Cox quoted Joseph Smith, the restoring prophet of the Church, saying, “Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.”
His hope is that students can open their hearts to fellowship those around them so that everyone can take part in the great joy and sense of community that comes through service.