BYU inauguration: From crashing cymbals to apostolic discourse

The inauguration of President Franklin S. Harris was held at the Provo Tabernacle. BYU University Archives

BYU presidential inaugurations have evolved from a campus-wide celebration to a solemn opportunity for students and faculty to hear the expectations of Church leaders.

“For most institutions inaugurations are a secular thing,” said BYU Archivist Gordon Daines. “Here at BYU it is a sacred thing. It is a calling to something greater than they are. It is a sacred relationship that the president has with the university and with God.”

The inaugurations of the past were decorated, filled with music from the marching band and finished with one or more inauguration balls. Faculty once marched ahead of the event in a procession, and reception lines enabled community leaders and students to meet incoming presidents. Photos from the university archives even show the Salt Lake Tabernacle draped with festive gossamer for an inauguration.

The event is now a more solemn experience, focused on the importance and direction of the university.

The BYU Board of Trustees has always attended the inauguration, but in the 1920s the event featured prominent figures in the community where the board now includes members of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The inauguration has long had a tradition where a member of the Quorum of the Twelve will charge the president with expectations.

“The inaugurations have always been about communicating in a public way of what the expectation of the board of trustees is for the university,” Daines said. “Historically what is said to a president at his inauguration is the vision that the board of trustees has for the university and the expectations that they have for the new president.”

Throughout BYU’s 139-year history, inaugural events have focused on the university’s mission, what makes it unique and an expression of expectations for the future.

“The charge that Brigham Young gave to the first full-time BYU president, Karl G. Maeser, was the charge to have the sacred and the secular mingle,” Daines said. “That charge has been echoed throughout time in every inauguration speech since.”

Part of this mingling is the unique nature of the BYU president’s office, as it is not a church calling. When President Henry B. Eyring extended the invitation to President Kevin J Worthen, he made it clear it was not a calling but a role that had been approved by both the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, President Worthen told The Universe.

Although the inauguration events no longer include big bangs and crashing symbols, it has remained a way that the faculty, students and community can see the clear expectations leaders have for the university.



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