My Experiences at BYU-Hawaii

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Bobby AkoiDevotional Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

November 3, 2005
Bobby Akoi
Director of Protocol, Polynesian Cultural Center

I appreciate that introduction. It almost sounds like one my mother would have written. Brothers and Sisters, Aloha! I echo my wife that we are delighted and honored to be with you this morning. We are products of this great institution and are very proud of it.

I guess many of you have just come from your classes, work, or from the library and had your studies interrupted. Now, I realize that coming to hear from the director of Protocol of the PCC may not be at top of your priority list. But I am very happy to see you here this morning.

I don't know that I will say anything profound today, but I do want to share with you a few things I have learned from my own experiences, especially experiences I have had at Church College of Hawaii and BYU-Hawaii.

We've just celebrated the 50th Jubilee celebration and I hope you all had a wonderful week. I know I did. I just want to express my gratitude to the President's Council for a wonderful job and especially to Vernice Wineera and Rex Frandsen and the Jubilee steering committee. If I could give you raise, I would. Thanks for giving all of us a great week and a great time where we all were uplifted, edified, and rejuvenated. I particularly enjoyed the Showcase Reunion and seeing eternal friends brought together again. It brought back floods of great memories. The Jubilee celebration also gave me an opportunity to reflect on this university, what it's done for me, and what I learned from it.

I came upon this campus in the early '70s with much persuasion by loving parents who felt their son was going wayward and heading towards the wrong direction. I wasn't overly excited about coming, but I told my parents I would to please them. There wasn't much time to apply since school was starting in a few weeks. In retrospect, I was very blessed to even get into CCH. I already had three siblings attending this university and I would be the fourth child to enter. However, I did have a slight problem, my hair was too long. It was by today's standards very unacceptable. My brother, Jay, took the buzzer gave me a decent haircut.

On the first day of registration, all students have to go through a standards line where our hair and clothes were checked by a university representative. I don't think today we have a standards check during registration, but in our days the dress and grooming standards were enforced on the first day of registration. When this school staff rep took a look at my hair which had already been cut, he told me it was too long that I'd have to cut it to pass registration. I gave him a long sad story of what it took for me to get here and how I just cut my hair and it was this long. Basically I asked him to give me a break. He shook his head and told me, "I'm so sorry, brother, cut it or no school." My brother took the buzzer again and eventually I made it through registration. I knew then, that someone was about to make some major changes.

The first thing I learned from this university is that change is a great gift of the Savior. The spirit of the Lord rides on this campus. Coming out of an environment where standards were either in question or nilch, I was suddenly thrust into an environment with return missionaries in my unit 13 Hale 4 of eight young men. During my time, there were eight people living in a large room divided by partitions and curtains instead of doors. Yes, be grateful for doors, we had none. A simple knock on the partition and that curtain went flying open. Talk about privacy. I noticed everyone carried their scriptures around, everyone attended church, everyone was talking positive it was an overwhelming feeling of whether this was reality. Was I ready for this change? And was I willing to make a change?

Sometimes we look at change as an enemy in our lives. Sometimes we are uncomfortable with change. And sometimes we just can't handle changes.

Let me illustrate this by doing an exercise with you. I don't think this has ever been done in a devotional, but I want to do this do prove a point.

Can I have you all put your books and pencils on the floor?

Can I have you all stand from where you are and find a partner next you, or a partner in front of you or back of you?

Now I'm going to give you a few seconds and I want you to look at your partner and observe your partner from head to toe. Okay, I think you've had enough time to study your partner.

Now can I have you turn your backs to each other, so you can't see your partner?

I'll give you a few seconds to change one thing on you.

Turn around and face your partners and see if you can find what your partner had changed. (Hopefully you were able to find the one change on your partner)

Now we're going to do this again.

Can you face your backs to each other?

Now change two new things on you.

Now can you face your partners and see if you can find two things your partner changed.

Thank you for helping me out in this exercise.

Alright, believe or not, I didn't do this exercise just for the fun of it. This exercise was really meant to teach us a principle. Can I ask how many of you changed back to your normal self before the changes? How many of you kept the changes on you? (Not too many) Notice how we are so used to being in our comfort zone that when a change happens (what do we do?) we immediately go back to the old habit. Change can be hard to make. Change can be hard to accept, but when the change is made for the betterment of you, oh what wonderful things happen, even miracles.

When I read about Alma, the son of Alma, he's a miracle in himself. I think of him as man who is passionate about change. From a young man who went against his father's teachings and changed his life completely around, I love the way he invites us to reflect over and over again on our own spiritual development, on things that need to change.

In Alma 5:14, 26, he offers questions like:

"Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

"If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"

The question I ask each of you is: "Are you willing to make those changes in your lives that will bless you? Are you willing to come unto the Savior Jesus Christ and become like him?"

One day as I was making my way from the men's dorm to volleyball practice, a young girl by the name of Jeanette, pulled me from the hallway into this large classroom with a small stage in it. In the next half hour, the director had me with a mike in hand singing a solo. After the rehearsal I found it was a group called "Showcase Hawaii." I had never heard of this group. The director, Randy Boothe, asked some of us to return that evening for a sectional practice. I merely told him I would, just so that I could leave and wasn't planning on returning. After all, I already missed volleyball practice. After dinner in the cafeteria, I felt this burning feeling that I needed to go to this Showcase rehearsal. I kept fighting it off because of my volleyball commitment. Yet, this strong feeling filled my whole body and the spirit whispered for me to go. Long story short, I did go to the rehearsal that evening and that decision was the beginning of a life-changing process for me.

It was at CCH & BYUH where I learned to read the scriptures carefully, where I learned to really pray with a sincere heart, and listen for promptings. It was here where I prepared myself for a full-time mission. It was here where I learned leadership skills in the student body organization and church callings. It was here where I courted my lovely wife and married her in the Hawaii temple and started our family. My first kid was a "TVA baby." I'm so grateful for the TVA experience that taught this green bean how to be a husband and father. It was here where I graduated and prepared myself for a professional career. These life-changing experiences at this school have brought about a whole new way of turning to the Lord and have continued to bless me and my family.

The second thing I learned from this university is to be anxiously engaged. The Lord has told us that, "Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

"For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward." (D&C 58:27-28)

Before I left on my mission this university was called Church College of Hawaii. When I returned from my mission this university changed its name to BYU, Hawaii Campus. I really feel privileged to be a part of both CCH and BYUH. After my mission I returned back here and joined "Showcase Hawaii" again being an ambassador for the university and the church. From 1969-1999, Showcase Hawaii played an integral part in recruiting students, promoting the university, helping the Hawaii LDS mission in their missionary efforts, going out on tours. In fact "Showcase" traveled the South Pacific and Asia several times in thirty years. All at the same time pursuing their education and working to support themselves. Of course we traveled every week throughout Oahu and Neighbor Islands sharing the gospel through music and dance. This was a busy group. I remember in just two semesters we counted 88 performances and a total audience of more that 33,000 people.

One particular performance I looked forward to was my hometown in Hilo. You may have read this story on the Jubilee website or read it in the community paper. It's my EAR story. I have never told this story publicly except at the "Showcase" reunion during the Jubilee celebration. So what you hear today is the first hand account of that experience. Of all the "Showcase" stories, this one is definitely at the top.

It was Hilo's annual carnival and "Showcase" was invited to perform besides doing shows at the local schools and local wards and stakes. I was really looking forward to seeing family, relatives, and friends that would be there to watch us. As we were getting ready for the show, some of us guys started getting the sound equipment out of the back of the Greyline Bus. Apparently the top of the door that opens down and up was not locked. The trunk fell on my head. It was a hard bump but my head's was pretty solid anyway and thought nothing of it. When I moved to the side of the bus the trunk door clipped the side of my head.

As we were dressing and getting ready for the show, the guys noticed blood on the side of my head. With my shorts in my hand, I began applying to the top of the head. The director Randy Boothe escorted me to the First Aid station and the nurse sat me down and looked at the top of my head. She looked confused because she couldn't find the open gash. When she looked towards my ear, she gasped. I asked if anything was wrong, she said no and proceeded to Randy who was standing at the door. She whispered in his ear and all I could see was Randy's face. He b-lined right out the door. In the meantime I sat there patiently waiting for the ambulance to take me to the hospital. When I got there, I received a blessing on the operating table. The doctor and I hit it off because he spoke Japanese and we were talking about my mission and why I went to Japan. I'm lying on my side and I see this piece of flesh swimming around in this light blue liquid. I ask the doctor, what was this? He looked at me shocked and said, "You really don't know what that is?" I chuckled and told him no. He said, "Didn't they tell you?" I said, "Tell me what, about my head?" He said as only one local can say to another local, "Braddah, that's your ear!" Well, you can imagine what I was thinking. Will I be able to perform without an ear? Who is going to want to marry an earless man? The doctor reassured me that he had done many plastic surgeries and chances were that the fallen ear would reattach. Well, I must say the surgeon did a wonderful job.

After the surgery I rejoined the group at the end of the performance and was told the other half the story.

Part II - Remember the nurse at the First Aid station, well she had gone to whisper in Randy Boothe's ear that I was missing part of my ear. That he needed to look for it immediately and get it to the hospital ASAP so they could reattach it. Well Randy and the "Showcase" members went to the bus in the dark, without flashlights, began searching for my ear. I can't remember who found it, but Randy did put it in a wet napkin. Because he was the director, he now had the difficult task to tell my mother who was anxiously waiting for her son to perform. He found my mother, and was so apologetic. He began to tell her, "Sister Akoi, I am so sorry, your son just got into an accident. This is ear, can you please take it to the hospital right now so they can reattach it?" When I asked my mother what her reaction was, she said, "Son, I had no time to react. I ran a quarter of a mile in my high heels looking for the car in the dark, just to get your ear to the hospital in time." Well the operation went well except they couldn't do a good fold. The one they did make made me feel like my ear was flapping around. I told the doctor that I could live without it.

Well, I will never forget this experience and many others that have allowed me to engage in doing good things. Whenever I look at the mirror my ear reminds me of the love I have for this school and sacrifices made by many that came before you and I, and it reminds me of those precious memories of "Showcase."

I'd like to think that we all generally want to do good. Don't we feel happier when we are doing good? When we are anxiously engaged in good causes, good things happen. I hope you students will take advantage of the opportunities on campus to do great things. Whether it be in the classroom, at work, whether it's in your ward, or among your friends. The reward for doing good is joy and happiness in this life and eternal life. To do good is to keep the commandments the Lord has given us. To do good is to improve yourself and help others improve themselves. To do good is to live a goodly life.

There are many people on this campus that can help you live a goodly life, that can help you improve yourself and stay on the right track.

That leads me to the third thing I learned from this university, that your bishop is your best friend.

I'm so grateful for Bishop Jim Bradshaw (still here teaching on campus, Bishop Charlie Goo (working in the development office), and Bishop Lloyd Munson (who has retired and now serving in the Hawaii Temple). They were all my bishops. Bishop Bradshaw helped me to prepare for my mission. Bishop Goo helped me to prepare for eternal marriage. And Bishop Munson, helped me prepare to be a husband and father. These men and many others on this campus prepared me spiritually so when I graduated, I felt confident to get out into the real world and contribute.

Twenty years later, I had the awesome opportunity of being called as a bishop on campus in the early '90s for the BYUH 8th Ward. I mark that experience as one of the highlights of my life. I learned more from the students than they learned from me. They taught me to be more patient, more loving, more kind, more compassionate, and that the Lord indeed loves each one of his children.

Even as I look out at you today, I know there are some of you that have excess baggage on you. I feel that you want help, and I feel that you are looking for a way to get help so that you can move on. I hope the spirit of Lord will touch you and give you the courage to see your bishop. Your bishop is waiting to help, he is waiting to counsel, advise, inspire, and give you direction. There is no other school on this earth besides our church universities that will provide the spiritual direction that will help both academically and spiritually.

I had a nephew who like me was persuaded by his parents to attend BYU-Hawaii. Both of his parents are graduates of this institution. They were very worried about him, knowing I was serving as a campus bishop they pleaded if there was anyway he could be in my ward. I arranged for that to happen without my nephew knowing and at the age of 21, he made his move to BYU-Hawaii. Every bishop on this campus will try their best to have a welcome interview with every student in his ward. When it was his turn for an interview, he basically talked first and said, "Uncle, I'm not going on my mission. I don't want anybody pushing me to go." I looked at him, smiled, and replied, "Well, welcome nephew to the BYUH 8th ward. I'm so glad you are here going to school and I know you'll have a wonderful experience on this campus." He looked at me kind of funny and we began to talk about him. That very semester, the 8th ward missionary farewells were almost twice a month. He was there at every farewell. He participated in the ward choir, in ward activities, intramurals and slowly I could see the change in him. I never mentioned the "M" word to him—mission. In the middle of the next semester he asked for an interview with me. My heart was pounding. I knew there was something good that would come out of this interview. As soon as he sat down, tears flowed from his eyes and he said, "Uncle, I think it's time for me to go on mission." If I could have jumped up in the air I would have, but I kept my cool and I asked him what made him change his mind. He said, "The spirit is so strong on this campus. You can't help but feel you have to give back to the Lord. But it wasn't until the night Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin came to speak at the stake fireside. You asked me to come with you and drive Elder & Sister Wirthlin back to Turtle Bay after the fireside. What Elder Wirthlin told me in the car confirmed what I had already knew I had to do, but I was stubborn and didn't want to listen. He told me if I served a mission, everything will fall into place for me." Well, my nephew did serve an honorable mission and has since graduated and has moved on to the next phase of his life.

There have been many students like my nephew who have made life changes by listening to the spirit and following it, and making the right choice. I hope and pray that you take advantage of your relationship with your bishop. If you don't have a relationship with your bishop, may I suggest that you start by initiating an interview with him. He loves you and cares for your well-being and wants you to succeed at this university.

Finally, the last thing I learned from this university is that the only way you can get a BYU-Hawaii degree is the old-fashion way. You've got to earn it. Those of us who have graduated from this institution know the determination, the energy, and the hard work that a degree requires. You will not earn just any degree, but a BYU-Hawaii degree. And what's so different about a BYU-Hawaii degree? Well, let the alumni tell you as I quote some of them:

"It's a well-rounded education you receive, both academic and spiritual."

"It's the capable and qualified faculty and administration who point the way, who inspire, who believe, and love our students."

"It's the individual attention and low student-to-teacher ratio."

"It's the gospel of Jesus Christ intertwined in every aspect of study and in every activity."

"It's the blend of so many different cultures"

"It's the opportunity to work and develop skills on campus and at the Polynesian Cultural Center."

And I could go on and on about what our alumni are saying about their experiences at CCH and BYUH.

I hope you feel lucky and blessed to be here, because you ought to be. I hope your experiences on this campus bring you good changes in your life. I hope you find yourselves always engaged in doing good things. I hope that you will develop a healthy relationship with your bishop who loves you. And I hope you continue to work hard in your studies so when you do leave this campus you will charge out of here confident and ready to achieve great ends in your own way.

May this great institution always have a place in your heart. For certainly it will always have a place in my heart. It's already imprinted on my right ear. Your best days are to come. May you always be blessed with the desire to do what is right, with a need to do better, and the drive to do more is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.