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R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News
Elder M. Russell Ballard speaks to congregation as David and Sandy Pershing, with others, are seated on rostrum behind him.
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. —David W. Pershing

SALT LAKE CITY — The new president of the University of Utah was formally introduced to LDS students Sunday evening by a member of the church's governing Quorum of the Twelve apostles.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the featured speaker at a devotional of the church's Institute of Religion adjacent to the university campus in Salt Lake City. He used part of his time to present David W. Pershing and his wife Sandy to the congregation of some 3,000 and then asked the couple to speak.

"President Pershing and his wife Sandy are no strangers to Utah; he's been on this campus for nearly 35 years now," Elder Ballard noted. "So he knows us; he knows the community; he loves the community. He tells me this is really home."

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," the church leader quipped.

Greeting the congregation, which filled two chapels and associated overflow areas, Pershing said, "This is the first time I've ever spoken to an audience that reached as far as the eye can see."

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 LDS apostles) and "my friends David Gardner and Chase Peterson."

"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. "And on any given day a few of them like to tell me how I should run the university," he joked.

"I am now leading what is generally acknowledged to be one of the 100 best universities in the entire world. And last year, our hospital was ranked the number one hospital in academic medical centers. So we're pretty proud to be at the University of Utah."

Pershing said he turned down a position at the University of California at Berkley to come to the school as a young professor. "And my graduate school adviser thought that was about the dumbest thing he'd ever heard of. But you know the joke, in a way, is on him, because he's now on the faculty here!"

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, 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, noted that she runs the office of outreach and engagement on campus.

"I would just leave you with 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!"