Elder Russell M. Ballard, apostle of the LDS faith, stood at the front of the Institute, his deep voice absorbed by the young audience that filled every seat before him.
“I have made myself a few notes with a thought in mind that maybe if I talk to you tonight, like a grandfather would talk to his grandchildren, that it would be a little more meaningful for me and hopefully a little more meaningful for you,” he opened.
With rooms packed to the brim, the devotional drew nearly 1,600 participants Sunday evening. According to Kelly D. Shepherd, the director of the Ogden Utah Institute of Religion, the event was a huge success.
“We are just so excited that we had such a good turnout,” said Shepherd. “It’s just a great beginning for a new year here at Weber State.”
The back-to-school devotional is hosted by the LDS Institute every year. Anyone of any faith is welcome to attend the free speech given by a keynote speaker.
Each year is different, but the primary goal of the devotional is to bring as many people together while introducing new people to the LDS building and Weber State campus, according to Shepherd.
“Elder Ballard is a really good speaker and he brings in the bigger crowds,” said Shepherd. “So having someone like this come and speak probably brought people in that haven’t been here before.”
Serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for nearly 30 years, Elder Ballard has traveled the world to teach and inspire faith while managing daily affairs within the Church. Earlier this year, he was requested by the Institute to give a talk at the LDS devotional.
According to Alan Barlow, associate director of the Ogden LDS Institute of Religion, students were treated to a rare experience on Sunday with Ballard’s exclusive speech.
“It’s not often that we get an apostle to come and speak to us,” said Barlow. “That’s kind of a big deal and we were excited about having him come. He’s just a wonderful speaker.”
Melding school and spirituality, Ballard used pockets of humor and personal experience in his talk to not only inspire faith and education, but also offer advice on balancing priorities such as college, religion and relationships.
“There is a very important time that everybody needs to get away from the world, to get off the merry-go-round long enough to interview yourself and figure out your priorities,” said Ballard in his speech.
“He’s very personable,” Shepherd said. “He enjoys meeting the students. He’s just good with young people.”
Along with Ballard, President Charles Wight of Weber State contributed to the devotional with a short talk of his own, which was more focused on welcoming students to campus for fall semester.
“Director Shepherd invited me to speak briefly at the devotional and that’s an opportunity that I appreciated and accepted,” said Wight, who stated this was his first opening talk for the school at an LDS Institute devotional.
Wight believes the Institute plays a unique role in higher education and these devotionals can be important to any student on campus.
“I think it’s an important part of any student’s experience to renew themselves both educationally and spiritually,” Wight said.
Barlow and Shepherd both hope students will leave with a new sense of appreciation for their education and faith.
“We’re hoping that the students will leave with their spirits lifted and will be encouraged to further their education,” Barlow said.