Preparing for school on Monday morning took a different turn for thousands of teenage Mormon students who, some 12 hours earlier, had learned of the death of their Church president, Gordon B. Hinckley.
The students responded to a flood of text messages from teens in at least six states, suggesting they arrive at school in their “Sunday best,” rather than their accustomed jeans or other casual clothes, as a symbol of respect and honor to their deceased leader.
“I received a mass of text messages and several phone calls,” said Holly, a student at Provo (Utah) High School, “and not just messages from my friends here, but from other schools too.”
The message spread rapidly following the passing of President Hinckley, the 97-year-old world leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Sunday evening. Students in many Utah schools as well as others in Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C. joined in the recognition. The original source of the message is unknown. Cell phone service providers in some areas noted the traffic, however.
One surprised parent, Kelly Gleave of Mesa, Arizona, discovered the change in routine as his daughter was up early ironing a skirt for Monday’s classes.
Gleave reported: “After receiving as many as 30 forwarded text messages, Makenzie and her classmates at Mountain View High School decided to wear church clothes to school as an honor to the prophet.”
A young student at Indian Hills Middle School in Salt Lake City, Daniel, expressed his pride in his ability to honor President Hinckley. “I could wear my white shirt, my very best, to remember the prophet,” he said.
For Anna of Salt Lake City’s Highland High, the Sunday dress was a means of saying “how much I would miss him, but without really saying anything.”
The fact that a 97-year-old man could effectively communicate with young people more than eight decades his junior was striking. But Gordon B. Hinckley delivered hundreds of sermons that resonated with young people throughout the worldwide membership of the Church.
Elizabeth, a student at Provo High, said: “He didn’t look 97. I don’t think he looked so old. To me, he’s like a friend, even though I don’t know him on a personal basis.”
Classmate Chelsea added: “He was such an amazing example to me. He lived a life devoted to teaching the gospel, and he lived exactly as he taught.”
Anthony, another Provo High student, recognized President Hinckley as “helping me to do what is right and making sure that I don’t get mixed up in the wrong stuff.”
Students in many locations spoke fondly of their relationship to President Hinckley, noting that he is the only prophet they have known in their lives. Some referred to his nationally published book, Way to Be! 9 Ways to Be Happy and Make Something of Your Life, as a handbook for teenage behavior and a resource for decision-making in their lives.
President Hinckley’s grandson James Pearce explained his understanding of why so many youth wore their best clothing to school. “He loved the youth so much. He really cared about them, and they felt that love. They acknowledged it with their behavior.”