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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
FILE - President David Pershing waves to students after speaking during University of Utah Commencement in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

On behalf of the University of Utah, we offer our congratulations to Russell M. Nelson on being called as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We are proud to recognize President Nelson, who received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the U., as one of our most distinguished graduates. In his lifetime, he has literally touched the hearts of millions of people — both as a surgeon and as a spiritual leader.

Before dedicating himself full time to church service, President Nelson was a world-renowned, groundbreaking cardiothoracic surgeon, researcher, professor and, for 17 years, director of our thoracic surgery residency program. As a pioneer in cardiac surgery, he built his own heart-lung bypass machine and performed the first open-heart surgery in the state. In 1956, he saved the life of a 4-year-old girl by performing the first successful pediatric cardiac operation. President Nelson has continued to influence the lives of generations of future physicians and their prospective patients by returning to the U. periodically to share his experiences.

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History links the LDS Church and the university from its inception. Our shared commitment to the community and to the idea that education improves lives and society has kept us partners for more than a century. The church continues those ties to this day, not only through the Salt Lake City Institute of Religion adjacent to our campus, but also through its generous support of medical research, education and the creation of the Thomas S. Monson Center that is now home to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, and countless university and civic events.

President Nelson has noted “education is the difference between wishing you could help other people and being able to help them.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Together, with millions of people throughout the world, we extend our best wishes to President Nelson in the important calling he has accepted. We look forward to a continued positive relationship with President Nelson and the LDS Church in the years to come.

David W. Pershing is president of the University of Utah.