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Excerpt from The Why of the Y by Kevin J Worthen who was president of Brigham Young University when this address was given at the BYU annual university conference on 26 August 2014.

Kevin Worthen is the new president of BYU-Provo

By contrast, the other result of our earnest pursuit of this inspired mission seems more certain. It gwill greatly enlargeh the influence of the university, not just in the realm of higher education but also in the world at large.

Let me cite one of many examples I could give of how this may occur. This particular example also demonstrates how some of the distinctive ways in which we do things prepares our graduates to compete gwith the best in their fields,h as the mission statement challenges us to do.

President Eyring conducted the installation ceremony for President Worthen

A year ago a story in the New York Times Magazine—headlined gWhen Hollywood Wants Good, Clean Fun, It Goes to Mormon Countryh—highlighted the work of the BYU Center for Animation, which operates under the direction of three colleges: the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Fine Arts and Communications, and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

The author of the article, Jon Mooallem, first described the type of animated short films that BYU students have produced during the last fourteen years. He then stated:

Those films have consistently racked up student Emmys and student Academy Awards. Theyfve played at Cannes and Sundance. Most important, theyfve impressed recruiters. Out of nowhere, BYU—a Mormon university owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—has become a farm team for the countryfs top animation studios and effects companies. Unlikely as it sounds, young Mormons are being sucked out of the middle of Utah and into the very centers of American pop-culture manufacturing.28

Now he might have said they are prepared to compete gwith the best in their fieldsh—the terms used in the mission statement.

Mooallem continued, describing what I would call the influence these graduates can have on the world:

The BYU program is designed to be a . . . kind of ethical counterweight: itfs trying to unleash values-oriented filmmakers into the industry who can inflect its sensibility. gWithout being preachy about it,h [Professor R. Brent] Adams told me, gif we can add something to the culture that makes people think about being better human beings—more productive, more kind, more forgiving—thatfs what we want to do.h29

Mooallem continued:

At first I struggled to understand the specifics of that mission. Everyone talked about wanting to make gclean moviesh or gmovies I wouldnft be afraid to take my mother to,h but these phrases were shibboleths, loaded and tough to pin down. It wasnft simply a matter of avoiding sex and violence. . . . There was, instead, a fixation on whether you walked away from the movie feeling uplifted. That question superseded everything, even the usual genre and age-demographic lines.30

The world—at least the animation world—is noticing the difference.

Mooallem went on to say:

The industry has found a new breed of employee in Utah. One recruiter from Sony Animation Pictures described the typical BYU grad as . . . equipped with ga different mind-set.h In most animation programs, each student leads production on his or her own film. But at BYU, everyone works as a team on a single film because, unlike at art schools, students are too busy with religion courses and other requirements to be full-time filmmakers. Out of necessity, production on each yearfs film winds up mirroring the way the industry actually works. BYU students emerge committed to a specialty and to collaboration—prepared for an entry-level job. 31

Notice how our distinctiveness, religion courses, and gother requirementsh—which might include ward or family responsibilities—caused the BYU Animation Center to do things in a different way that turns out to be a better way.

Returning to the story:

gHonestly,h says Marilyn Friedman, the former head of outreach at DreamWorks, who visited BYU frequently, gthe first few times I went to Provo, I was like: What am I doing here? Ifm a little Jewish girl from back East. But I was just amazed by how absolutely lovely those kids are. They couldnft be nicer, humbler, more respectful. Itfs a pleasure. And when they come here, they stay that way.h32

The author of the article added:

Many of the students I met in Provo grew up in insular Mormon communities. They came from whatfs dismissed as flyover country. They donft smoke or drink, and I noticed that one faculty member, for example, kept saying, gHoly schnikeys!h whenever he wanted to curse. And yet creative types in Hollywood kept raving to me about how much gmore worldlyh these Mormons were than the moody, Gen Y art-school grads coming out of New York and Los Angeles and how grateful they were to have them onboard. This cut against so many different stereotypes—of Mormons, of Hollywood, of tortured artsy kids—and at the oddest angles. By coincidence, it seemed, Mormon culture was grooming its young people to be ideal employees of the same industry it predisposed them to be wary of.33

Mooallem concluded with an observation that may prove prophetic:

I kept being reminded that BYUfs program was only 13 years old: most of the moral emissaries that it has been pouring into the industry are still climbing to the positions from which theyfll be able to truly influence a filmfs tone and content. One day there will be alumni directing and producing, students insisted—itfs an inevitability. gRight now wefre the workhorses,h an alumnus at DreamWorks told me. gBut I think our future is bright in terms of being able to shape the industry.h34

What an example of how gthe earnest pursuit of this institutional mission . . . will greatly enlarge Brigham Young Universityfs influence in a world we wish to improve.h

 

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