When Atu Tonga Maile Falevai, from Ha'ateiho, Tonga, was just a young boy, he remembers falling asleep on a cold, classroom floor to the sound of his mother’s fingers typing. The boy and his younger sister had traveled from Tonga to Fiji with their mother so she could pursue her dream of obtaining an education.
“I remember my sister and I having to sleep on the … floor some nights so that she [could] try her best to learn from her friends how to type and to submit assignments,” he said.
After being away from school for many years, the 42-year-old mother of 8 decided she wanted to finish her degree and decided that she would do what she could — even move to a different island with part of her family — to finish.
But because she had been away from the classroom for so long, the assignments were difficult.
“I remember the struggles that she went through,” Falevai said. “It’s been years since she was … [in] school, she couldn’t even use a computer, so she would hand write all her assignments.”
With the encouragement from her professors, she started from the beginning, first learning where her fingers needed to be placed on the keyboard; then, how to use the computer.
“Long story short, my mother finally graduated and a couple of years later she went on to do her master's degree and graduated at age 50,” he said.
That example his mother set has guided Falevai the past few years as he attended Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
“My mother’s example of sacrifice to gain an education brought me to stand here with you today,” he said during commencement exercises on April 21. “My mother has been my role model of dedication and commitment in every aspect of life, especially in obtaining an education.”
Falevai is one of the 221 students — from 29 countries and 21 states — of BYU-Hawaii that earned a degree this semester. Known for a highly international student body, the school awarded graduates from around the world 197 bachelor’s degrees and 24 associate’s degrees.
“BYU-Hawaii is truly a wonderful and special place,” college President John S. Tanner said during the graduation.
Held in the BYU-Hawaii Cannon Activities Center on campus, the commencement services included advice from President Tanner, a talk by graduate Falevai, remarks by Assistant to the Commissioner of Education for the Church, Mark B. Woodruff, and a keynote address by Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president.
Sharing a message from the prophecy given by President David O. McKay at the founding of the school, President Tanner quoted, “From this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good toward the establishment of peace internationally.”
“My message is simple: become the peacemakers that President McKay envisioned,” President Tanner said.
Recognizing today’s world is full of rife, wars and rumors of wars, violence and “often roiling in enmity and hate,” President Tanner said that it is through the gospel that all can find peace.
“The gospel holds the key to peace, whether international, interpersonal or personal,” he said. “We can become peacemakers by living and sharing the gospel plan.”
Sharing two “simple but profound truths of that plan,” President Tanner told graduates that first, the gospel embodies the plan — not a plan, but the plan — of happiness and peace.
And second, all are children of a Heavenly Father “and hence, brothers and sisters,” he said. “We are one ohana as it were. Peace comes from treating each other as brothers and sisters. …
“To become peacemakers internationally, you are going to need to be wise about how to balance less obvious but still important competing claims of unity and diversity. Peacemakers must learn to find unity amid diversity within the gospel plan for peace.”
Sister Bingham said happiness in this life and in the eternities comes through obedience to the laws of God.
“We can choose to obey or disobey the laws of man,” she said. “Consequences for disobedience sometimes occur immediately, sometimes later, and it is even possible to avoid negative consequences for a very long time in this fallen world.”
But, regardless of how long someone can avoid consequences in this life, the time will come when he or she will stand before their Eternal Judge and receive their reward according to the laws of mercy and justice.
“Compared to the laws of man, the laws of God are consistent and can be trusted completely,” she said. “From the time of Adam and Eve until today, God has given commandments that are designed for our happiness and eternal progress.”
Examples such as the laws of obedience, tithing, chastity and consecration, all show that Heavenly Father has set His laws in place “according to His perfect love and His absolute devotion to the redemption and exaltation of His children. They cannot be circumvented or changed simply because we don’t like them or don’t believe them.”
Asking graduates why God gives commandments, Sister Bingham said, “Is it to keep us down, in groveling subjection to Him? Is it to remove any opportunity for real fun in this world?”
"No," she answered.
“The opposite is true: God has given us commandments because He loves us,” she said. “He wants to spare us heartache, misery, and regret. He knows that the only way to be truly happy in in this life and experience unbounded joy in the world to come is to follow Jesus Christ’s example of obedience to the laws of God.”
Agency allows people to choose for themselves whether he or she will be obedient.
“My young friends, … times will come in your life when you will be tempted to choose the lesser path,” she said. “It takes intentional, determined, time-and-again obedience to withstand the challenges you will inevitably face. …
“In this, your day, you will fight against enemies that may seem overwhelming, but remember that the power that comes from obeying the commandments of God will allow you to overcome all things.”