The word “special” isn’t what it used to be. While its modern connotation is often negative, insulting or synonymous with receiving a participation trophy, BYU Advancement Vice President Keith Vorkink reexamines other meanings of the word as the perfect way to describe BYU students, alumni and donors.
In an address to members of the Jesse and Amanda Knight Society in the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center last week, Vorkink stated that this adjective first caught his interest when he was studying President Kimball’s address titled “The Second Century of Brigham Young University.”
In this speech, President Kimball stated, “We must do special things that would justify the special financial outpouring that supports this university.”
Vorkink was surprised to hear “special” used in this context and noticed that Kimball said the word eight times in his address. President Kimball's intentional usage of “special” led Vorkink to ponder upon the definition and implications of the word.
“The Latin roots of the word introduce a slightly different perspective using descriptions such as ‘individual,’ as well as ‘selected for an important task or designed for a particular purpose,’” Vorkink explained.
After studying President Kimball’s address and the definition of “special,” Vorkink started to understand the significance of financially supporting special things. This realization helped him see further meaning in President Kimball’s speech.
“Your trust of the institution,” Vorkink gratefully explained to the luncheon members, “and willingness to forgo immediate accolades … is truly unusual, if not exceptional.”
But beyond donors’ financial generosity, Vorkink maintained that each donor has unique circumstances that lead them to membership. As one of many examples, he shared the story of June Leifson, a woman born with cleft lip and palate.
Leifson encountered challenge after challenge: navigating language struggles due to an operation on her cleft lip and palate, struggling to fulfill her childhood dream of being a nurse and serving a mission.
However, she continued to press forward with strength. Eventually, Leifson was accepted into BYU’s nursing program, received her Ph.D. and started teaching nursing at BYU. Later in her career, then BYU president Jeffrey R. Holland appointed her as dean of the College of Nursing.
Today, she is a proud and longtime member of the Knight Society.
“Like you, June is special,” Vorkink told audience members. “Her path was clearly selected for an important and individual work, as certainly as each of yours is as well. Understanding the special contributions of members of the Knight Society, such as June’s, helps bring a sense of responsibility and stewardship to the special things we must do as a university.”
Vorkink urged members to remember other students who have the potential to become special but encounter all kinds of debilitating challenges.
“With so many universities,” he explained, “driven by challenging economics, looking to adopt financially efficient ways to graduate their students, themselves looking and feeling more and more like an educational factory, BYU is counseled ... to take a different, individual, even special approach to our student development.”
The Jesse and Amanda Knight Society is open to any donor who has named BYU in a deferred gift such as a BYU retirement account, will, life insurance policy, gift annuity or trust. There are more than 1,200 current Knight Society members, including current and retired BYU employees.
Find out how you can join the Knight Society at give.byu.edu/knight, or contact the Philanthropies department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (801-356-5251 or legacy@ChurchofJesusChrist.org).