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‘Bursting at the seams’: How schools and institutes carried out CES Date Night

Date Night - Jan 2024

This story appears here courtesy of It is not for use by other media.

By Rachel Sterzer Gibson, Church News

This week, the Church Educational System reiterated an important message in a fun way.

The original message was offered by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who, sitting with his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks, taught of the doctrinal significance of marriage and parenting and reiterated to young adults across the globe that dating precedes marriage.

In an effort to amplify that prophetic teaching, the Church Educational System invited each of its institutions — Brigham Young University, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii and Ensign College, even BYU–Pathway Worldwide and Institutes of Religion — to host a date night event, planning it in a unique way that would meet the needs of their students.

“We have so many young people now who are more connected than ever on Instagram, but they don’t talk to people in real life,” Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and Church commissioner of education, told the Church News.

Throughout the last week, BYU, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, Ensign College, BYU–Pathway and 15 of the larger institutes in the United States all hosted or participated in a date night event, prompting thousands of Latter-day Saint young adults to go on a date.

While Elder Gilbert said he realizes a one-night event won’t be “a silver bullet,” the hope is that it will be a catalyst to help re-instill a culture of dating.

And based on the impressive turnouts at the events, “If we were tracking the largest date night in the history of the Church, that maybe happened,” Elder Gilbert said. “But what was more important is we are teaching principles of ‘The [Family] Proclamation,’ principles of the family and amplifying a message from prophets.”

BYU: ‘Date Night with the Reeses’

BYU President C. Shane Reese and Sister Wendy Reese hosted more than 6,500 students during the university’s date night on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

The Reeses began the festivities by playing Kahoot games, an interactive online game/trivia platform. Students could then enjoy a wide array of activities and free food, including 5,000 hot dogs. Outside on Brigham’s Square, steel fire pits were provided for s’mores by the fire.

Attendees also enjoyed free bowling, planetarium shows, dancing, get-to-know-you games, karaoke, service projects, activities at the Bean Life Science Museum, pickleball, movies, video, board and yard games, as well as photo booths.

Brooklynn Kelson, who is a senior majoring in photography, commented that it was one of the best activities she’s been to at BYU. “This was the perfect activity for winter semester. It was such a fun, well-organized activity and gave us something to look forward to in January.”

Kelson said she also appreciated the interaction with the Reeses. “It felt so personable to have them there talking with us. I love the Reeses. They are some of my most favorite people on campus,” she said.

BYU–Idaho: ‘Date Night with the Merediths’

During BYU–Idaho’s date night on Jan. 31, the university — which had prepared roughly 4,700 servings of ice cream — ran out within the first 15 minutes.

While several organizers headed to nearby grocery stores for as many frozen treats as they could fit in a grocery cart, that still was not enough the feed the roughly 7,000 who made an appearance to the event. (The university administration has offered to do a “Date Night Makeup” by holding an ice cream social following the weekly campus devotional on Tuesday, Feb. 13.)

The campus date night “by far exceeded our expectations,” reported Allen Jones, BYU–Idaho managing director of student activities. “Every activity was full and bursting at the seams.”
BYU–Idaho President Alvin F. Meredith III and Sister Jennifer Meredith began the evening in the BYU–I Center auditorium where they offered a light-hearted message filled with solid counsel on dating, Jones said. They shared dating “dos and don’ts” as well as what is and what is not a date or should not be included or expected on a date.

Students then funneled into the variety of activities. Couples painted 700 canvases and 300 rocks. Close to 450 played mini golf. More than 1,700 attendees participated in pickleball, including six couples who played against the Merediths. On social media, the Merediths reported that they won two games, tied one and lost three games.

The evening included many blind dates and spontaneous invitations, including a young man on the second floor of the Manwaring Student Center who yelled down an invitation to a young woman down on the first floor. One student reported that his entire family home evening group, who don’t usually go on dates, all got together and got dates for the date night, Jones said.

“It was by far the best group date we have ever been on and we have all of you to thank for it,” President Meredith wrote on social media.

Ensign College: Date Night with the Kusches

With a much smaller campus community, Ensign College President Bruce C. Kusch and Sister Alynda Kusch were able to provide personalized attention to the couples and individuals who participated in the Ensign College date night.

The school provided a taco bar, while Adam Garland, Ensign College dean of students, moderated a discussion about dating with President and Sister Kusch. “The piece students enjoyed the most was having President and Sister Kusch visit with them one-on-one as they walked around from table to table,” Garland said.

President and Sister Kusch answered questions ranging from, “What’s the funniest habit you discovered about each other after getting married?” to “How do I know if I found the right person?” to “What is the secret for a long lasting marriage?”

The college also provided treats, games and a raffle.

BYU–Hawaii Date Night

“Our first-ever BYUH Date Night was a huge success,” reported Laura Tevaga, BYU–Hawaii advancement vice president.

The event began with a lively game show about dating as well as messages from BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe IIIand Sister Monica Kauwe.

An estimated 1,200 participants then split into activities such as country dancing, origami and sports while also enjoying good food, a dance and prizes.

A surprise for the evening came from the speed dating activity hosted by the Counseling Services. “It was very popular and packed the whole time,” said Kala Kau, Student Life vice president,

If he sounds “gushy,” Kau said, “it is because the event was amazing.”

He added, “It was apparent to me that the Lord had an interest in the purpose and success of this event for the social and spiritual welfare of our young people at BYUH and CES sister institutions. The table has been set for future date-themed conversations, teaching, encouragement and activities.”

Institutes of Religion

Young single adult institute councils, students and leaders of 15 of the larger institutes in the United States planned Date Night events for their local institutes.

Brent Fillmore, an instructor at the Logan Institute of Religion, said turnout surpassed all expectations.

The nearly 500 individuals who participated in the Logan institute date night on Jan. 26 were treated to pasta, salad and bread from a popular local restaurant. One institute instructor and his wife hosted a popular trivia game, while the director of the institute, Andy Bryan, and his wife, Aimee Bryan, shared dating counsel and their courtship story.

“The many couples who attended this monumental event seemed to leave feeling lighter and inspired,” Fillmore said.

Sean Dixon, director of the Utah Valley Institute of Religion in Orem, Utah, shared how approximately 800 to 900 students came to the date night there on Jan. 26.

Organizers felt strongly about requiring everyone in attendance to come with a date. “This really stretched many students who said they had not been on a date in months,” Dixon said.

The planning team made a humorous video that they posted on the institute’s social media pages showing students how easy it could be to ask someone out. The video got well over 10,000 views.

“It was evident, after watching students feel nervous about getting dates, how much this event was needed. They needed to be pushed out of their comfort zones,” Dixon observed.

Several institute employees made taco salads for the masses and “miraculously” made it stretch to feed closer to 700 people than the planned 550.

With the help of the student council, the date night included mini golf, video games, country and Latin dancing, a Nerf gun war, paint night and other activities.

“The biggest feedback we had from the students was that they wanted to do this every semester. It was a ton of work, but we all feel it was totally worth it,” Dixon said.

With typically about 45 students attending the institute of religion in Columbia, Missouri, institute director Ashley Parkinson was a bit nervous about trying to host a date night.

However, she said she was “humbled and amazed at the wonderful young adults” in her class. “They are so supportive, and each one did their best to come with a date, even if that wasn’t the most comfortable thing for each of them.”

With the help of her husband and teenage daughters, Parkinson began the evening with ”Minute To Win It”-style games and a get-to-know-you bingo game. The couples were served a “fancy dinner,” and at each table setting, Parkinson also provided conversation starters or eight opened-ended questions for the couples to discuss.

They finished the evening with a clip from the message provided by President Oaks, and Parkinson and her husband shared encouragement and a testimony.

Parkinson also offered each attendee a goodie bag filled with chocolates, a voucher for a local cookie shop to use for a future date, a handout with 10 fun and inexpensive date ideas, plus 10 additional conversation starters to get to know someone.

In gathering feedback from the young adults who participated, Parkinson reported, “two students responded that [President] Oaks’ message touched them and made them think about their future plans more. All of them said it was a wonderful date night, and they would do it again.”

BYU–Pathway Worldwide

With their student community spanning more than 180 countries, BYU–Pathway Worldwide participated in the CES Date Night event by featuring a special message from BYU–Pathway Worldwide President Brian K. Ashton and Sister Melinda Ashton.

The couple discussed questions related to dating, marriage and family relationships. The broadcast, titled “Nurturing Eternal Relationships,” strived to help listeners “gain helpful tips on how to create new relationships and strengthen existing ones.”

A BYU–Pathway student from Nigeria, Aso Anyorie Oburu, wrote, “It was inspiring and heartfelt to know that God [loves] His children and wants us to partake of covenants that will strengthen our relationship with Heavenly Father.”

Erika Colchado-Medina, a student from Mexico, thanked Sister Ashton for her remarks. “You gave me the answer I needed to hear to help out my son.”