The new president of the University of Utah is no stranger to the area or the university, Elder M. Russell Ballard told LDS students March 25, as he introduced President David W. Pershing and his wife, Sandy, at a Sunday evening devotional at the Church institute of religion adjacent to the university campus.
The featured speaker at the devotional, Elder Ballard gave part of his time to the couple to address the congregation of some 3,000 students and their ward and stake leaders.
"He's been on this campus for nearly 35 years now," Elder Ballard said of President Pershing. "So he knows us; he knows the community; he loves the community. He tells me this is really home."
President Pershing has been senior vice president of academic affairs and is a distinguished professor of chemical engineering and a researcher with five patents to his credit.
"He's plenty smart, so don't try to pull anything over on him!" Elder Ballard quipped.
Greeting the congregation, President Pershing said it is an honor and "quite intimidating" to be the university's 15th president, succeeding such presidents as James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe (both of whom were members of the Quorum of the Twelve in their day) and "my friends David Gardner and Chase Peterson."
President Pershing, a Protestant, said, "I cannot help but wonder what the university's founder, Brigham Young, would think if he were to come back here and look at his 'University of Deseret' now after 161 years."
The school now has more than 31,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty, he noted.
"I am now leading what is generally acknowledged to be one of the 100 best universities in the entire world," he said. "And last year, our hospital was ranked the No. 1 hospital in academic medical centers. So we're pretty proud to be at the University of Utah."
The new president urged students, whatever their situation, "to hang on and finish your degree."
"In terms of your personal life, your professional life, your religious callings, overall, get your degree. It will, in the end, be worth it."
Those who graduate on average earn $20,000 more a year than those who don't, President Pershing said.
He concluded by saying the administration knows LDS students contribute greatly to the university. "You bring maturity, wisdom, amazing leadership skills, terrific voices and international experience, all of which greatly benefit the University of Utah."
Speaking briefly prior to her husband, Sandy Pershing said that she runs the office of outreach and engagement on campus.
"I would just leave you with one challenge, and that is today, tomorrow and every day forward to reach your hand out to someone else."
"Isn't he wonderful?" Elder Ballard remarked about the new president. "If you've got a problem, go see him. He'll fix it. And if he can't fix it, Sandy will!"
Elder Ballard then turned to his prepared talk and told the students: "You're here to become defenders of freedom, and especially religious freedom. The future of this country, this community, the Church, will rest on your shoulders. You are preparing yourselves in very many important ways for what lies ahead as you are attending this university."
He added, "You're here to know how to protect the moral values of decency in our society, a crying need, in my judgment, as we see what is going on in our society."
Elder Ballard reminded the students they are committed to a standard of life and eternal objectives.
"Those standards are slowly being whittled away in one way or another," he said. "It's going to require leadership from you who are sitting with us tonight."