that building

As I searched the halls of the Karl G. Maesar Memorial Building for meaning I came upon a small blue book in the basement on the bottom shelf, and found the book being eaten away by a small silver bug. Interestingly enough the bug had cut a heart-shape into the pages of that book of poetry, and interesting still was the presence of a student’s loose-leaf love poem, scribbled and signed on the back of a syllabus, tucked between the pages of a love poem. So much love, all in one place. It was as if I had found fiction in real life. If you can find the book, the poetry and the note, it’s all still there...

... Because I put the book back on the shelf, as undisturbed as it had been before. Yet I was disturbed. How did this happen? Don’t we clean that building, maintain and manage it? Didn’t our forbearers sacrifice for that building? How many more books, and what else will be lost before anyone notices? Will there be anything left? Although my imagination went running my heart stayed on the ethos of all the meaning that could be lost with that building; lost to that student who left his love note to a sweetheart in the pages of a book; lost to all those who built it and sacrificed for it, all those that studied and worked in it throughout the years; lost to future generations. Lost.

When the cornerstone was set on October 16, 1909 the whole position of the building was determined. That’s what cornerstones do, they determine everything that follows—and that’s what Karl G. Maesar did for BYU. He set the standard when he said:

I have been asked what I mean by “word of honor.” I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first (1).”

It’s no wonder we call it an ‘honor code.’ One thing that cannot be lost is Dr. Maeser’s legacy, generations of practiced honesty and cornerstones of virtue in the lives of all who have and will ‘enter to learn and go forth to serve.’ 

Construction continued, and eventually the pillars were placed. Here we find no lack of meaning. Pillars, architecturally, distribute the weight above to the earth below. They connect heaven and earth, much like a temple. Pillars and ‘temples of learning’ are spread throughout this campus, just as pillars of fire are spread throughout our religious heritage. From the theophanies of Moses and Lehi down to Joseph Smith we see symbols of our own small experiences with God even if they are as small as two textural columns highlighted like fire above footnotes in our scriptures, thus creating burning pillars of testimony within us. And even when Dr. Maesar was about to give up on the beginning of this University he had a vision, his own pillar of fire if you will. “I have had a dream—I have seen Temple Hill filled with buildings—great temples of learning, and I have decided to remain and do my part (2).” Another thing that cannot be lost is the sacrifice, diligence, visions and revelations, both secular and spiritual, that have come in consequence of this building, to leader and student alike.

Even though that building, and even this whole university, were almost lost in prior times to fire, financial trouble and despair, and even though that building could be lost by moth and rust, or something as small as a bug in a book, nothing can demolish the spirit and meaning of that building. Nothing can shake the pillars that connect us to heaven and the cornerstones that found our faith. We will not lose the meanings of sacrifice built into the very framework of that building, of tenacity to endure dark hours, of hope and visions that this University is only on the verge of fulfilling. No, none of that can be lost. Even if, as the namesake of this building said before in faith, “’s only a building (3).”

  1. Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maeser, Mormon Educator, p. 71
  2. Ernest L. Wilkinson and W. Cleon Skousen, Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1976), pp. 84–85
  3. Ernest L. Wilkinson and W. Cleon Skousen, Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1976), pp. 74–75.