Presenters, attendees 'rejoice' at Southern Virginia's 17th annual Education Conference

By Hannah Benson Rodriguez

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, June 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Attendees watch presentations at Southern Virginia University's 17th annual Education Conference.

Lindsey Morgan, Southern Virginia University

BUENA VISTA, Va. — Hundreds of attendees gathered to hear presentations on the theme “Rejoice, the Heavens are Open” on the first day of Southern Virginia University’s 17th annual Education Conference last week.

The conference began on June 7 with presentations by Glade Knight, chairman of the Southern Virginia board of trustees, and Paul K. Sybrowsky, president of Southern Virginia. Other presenters included Mark Taylor, Southern Virginia professor and violinist; Kaye Hanson, former management communications professor at Brigham Young University; Matthew Rasmussen, instructor at the Buena Vista Institute of Religion; and Lee Donaldson, manager of proselytizing services in the missionary department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Knight spoke, at the request of conference attendees from previous years, about being inspired to guide the university in its transition from an all-female school to a co-educational liberal arts institution serving Latter-day Saints.

Knight said that he never dreamed of “starting a university” for Latter-day Saint students, but after his experience visiting the campus in 1996, he assembled a board of trustees, found a president (David Ferrel), took on the assets and liabilities of the university, and then faced the challenge of recruiting students.

“I tell the young people: ‘If you want to have a boring life, take control of it yourself and decide where you’re going to go. If you want to have an exciting, exhilarating, fun-packed life, go by the Spirit, where the Lord wants you to go and you’ll find that it’s more exciting than anything that you can do.’ ”

Sybrowsky spoke about the future of LDS higher education and specifically the role that Southern Virginia University will play as it grows to accommodate more students and help them “know how to seek for and receive revelation in all things in life.”

Sybrowsky detailed specific plans for the future of the university, including the construction of new buildings to “provide the finest educational learning structure that we can … to welcome the spirit of the Lord.”

He said that the key to the best education is the combination of “scholarship with discipleship.”

Taylor performed an arrangement of “Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer” on the violin, accompanied by his son, William Taylor, a music major at Southern Virginia.

Prior to performing, Taylor told the story of how he and his wife came to Southern Virginia to help build the university’s music program.

“Coming to Virginia has been an inspired move for us,” Mark Taylor said.

Hanson discussed the times when the heavens have been closed and then shared a story from her life in which she “watched the heavens open” for another individual.

While serving a mission in Europe four years ago, Hanson and her companion were assigned to select local young single adults to share their testimonies and be filmed for Mormon Messages videos in their native languages and in English.

When they gathered in Poland for filming, one young man, a branch president, tried several times without success to give his message clearly in both languages. Hanson read from her journal that another man, a stake president, sat down with the young branch president and told him to “call down the powers of heaven to have your Father in heaven help you.”

After the young man said a prayer in Slovenian, Hanson said that it was “as though a light (had) gone on within him” and that he then spoke “with renewed clarity” and moved forward “without problems.”

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