January, 30, 2012

The Lasting Impact of Karl G. Maeser

A statue of Karl G. Maeser outside of BYU's Karl G. Maeser building.

Brigham Young’s only advice to principal Karl G. Maeser about the Provo school was: “You must not attempt to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication table without the Spirit of God. That is all.”[1] In spring 1876, Maeser learned that Young would be visiting him to see how he had planned to implement the charge he had received.

Maeser sat at his desk to work out his ideas. Nothing came. Through the next day and the day after, he paced his office and scribbled notes. The third day, he dropped, exhausted and disheartened, to his knees. “O Father,” he pleaded, “Show me the way[;] help me to make the plans for this great work. I cannot do it of myself.” Immediately the confusion was lifted, and within a few hours Maeser had written the plan for the new school. It had come to him as an answer to prayer.

Because of Maeser’s inspiration, Brigham Young Academy wove together the development of faith, character, intellect, and the spirit of service.

Idealism, Duty, and Honor in Everything

Maeser’s dedication to his call from Brigham Young set in motion a legacy that has instilled idealism, duty, and honor in the students who come through Brigham Young University. The gallery is filled with quotes from former students reflecting on the powerful atmosphere of this university.

“The students came as the result of economy and sacrifice, and realized the necessity of devoting every energy to study. They were earnest, sincere, serious-minded, well-behaved, clean of thought comradely, and anxious to know and do the right thing. They came knowing what they wanted, and determined to obtain it in full measure, however severe the effort. How well they succeeded is disclosed by the history of the Territory, State and Nation, in which he names of so many of them will be found on the roll of honor and high service.”

—George Sutherland, class of 1881

“[T]he ’Y’ has given me something wonderful. It has given me a circle of splendid friends[,] . . . a philosophy of life, and a code of ethics that[,] if followed, makes real men and women. Above all, it has given to me a vision so beautiful, an ideal so high, that my work, my faith, my prayers are all that I may be worthy of it and in some measure live up to it.”

—Helen Candland, class of 1924

“Thanks to some inspiring professors in the Spanish department, I learned important lessons on the ideals of Zion. Across cultural, social, and language barriers, we are all children of a loving God whose greatest joy is in seeing His children prosper and be happy. As BYU graduates, we have all been instilled with a duty to love and respect all peoples, languages, cultures, and traditions, and to honor the promises we have made before God to love one another.”

—David C. Heier, class of 2004

“Many classes have closed-book, take-home tests that are on your honor. I dare say the great majority of students here consider their honor a duty; they won’t cheat. That says a lot about the integrity of this institution and the caliber of its people.”

—Braton Fredline, class of 2010

“All of our children attended . . . Brigham Young University because I knew the influence of our religion [and] the caliber of [the] young people. . . . In these times, BYU is an example of goodness that attracts high-minded students of all denominations.”

—Gwendolyn L. Riches, class of 1943

“My experience at BYU helped me to decide to go on a mission, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. . . . It gave me . . . a moral compass that I think has helped me throughout my whole life.”

—Orrin Hatch, class of 1959

1. Alice Louise Reynolds, “History of the Brigham Young University,” typescript, undated, 2, UA 104, J. Marinus Jensen Collection, University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collection, University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.