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Elder Nielson encourages BYU–Idaho graduates to ‘be wise’ and reject the labels being placed on Gen Z


When Elder Brent H. Nielson graduated from Brigham Young University as a baby boomer, his generation — Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — was described as part of a drug culture, a sexual revolution and an anti-government movement. 

Fortunately, those labels did not stick, said Elder Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy during BYU–Idaho commencement services on Wednesday, Dec. 15. 

Latter-day Saint boomers were able to move forward in faith, staying close to Jesus Christ, His gospel and His Church, he said. Today, baby boomers are looked upon as as having a strong work ethic, being self-assured, resourceful, team-oriented and disciplined.

Many of BYU–Idaho’s fall semester graduates’ generation — “Gen Z” — are being labeled the same way as his generation, Elder Nielson noted. Gen Z are being characterized by the media and social scientists by an addiction to technology; financial insecurity; extreme sensitivity; lack of motivation or laziness; drug, alcohol, and sex addiction; a lack of moral values; and the least interested in religion than all previous generations.

But, just like Elder Nielson’s generation, today’s young adult Latter-day Saints can make sure the labels of society don’t stick. 

Echoing the admonition of Jacob in the Book of Mormon who said, “Oh be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12), Elder Nielson encouraged the 2,937 graduates to “reject the Gen Z labels and embrace God’s plan for you.”

Speaking in the BYU–Idaho Center on the Rexburg, Idaho, campus, Elder Nielson’s address was part of the first in-person graduation services since December 2019.

Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks during commencement services at BYU–Idaho, held in the I-Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks during commencement services at BYU–Idaho, held in the I-Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Credit: James Turcotte, BYUI

Ignoring the great and spacious building

Elder Nielson said there has never been a more vivid portrayal of the great and spacious building from Lehi’s vision of the tree of life than the mocking voices on the internet today.

In his 30 years as a trial lawyer, Elder Nielson learned that the opposing counsel did not have to prove anything. He or she simply had to cast doubt. Like a magician who holds one hand in the air to distract from what is really happening with the other hand, the hope was to draw attention away from the truth. 

“As a trial lawyer, I quickly learned how to identify the tactics that distract others from seeing or recognizing truth,” Elder Nielson recalled. 

Korihor, who readers learn about in Alma 30 in the Book of Mormon, was an anti-Christ who was successful in leading individuals away from God. 

“If Korihor lived today, he would post on TikTok, and he would create podcasts that cast doubt,” Elder Nielson commented.

A BYU–Idaho graduate from the College of Language and Letters holds up her diploma following convocation on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

A BYU–Idaho graduate from the College of Language and Letters holds up her diploma following convocation on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Credit: Francisco Fierro, BYUI

Korihor calls the beliefs of faithful Church members “foolish traditions” and “the effect of a frenzied mind” or a “derangement of your minds.” 

“Can you hear him causing you to feel you have been deceived? He is in that large and spacious building mocking you,” Elder Nielson said. “Please note that Korihor has not proven anything. He is simply mocking the beliefs of the members and casting doubt. And yet he led many members astray. They were distracted by the magic trick because their attention was diverted from the truth, and they removed their hand from the iron rod because they were embarrassed.”

Eventually, Korihor met Alma the Younger, who recognized Korihor’s tactics. Korihor demands a sign and is struck dumb. Mormon declares at the end Alma 30, “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.”

Today, there are many modern-day Korihors on the internet who delight in watching the Gen Z generation stumble and fall by the wayside, but, like Korihor, they will not be supported by the devil at the last day, Elder Nielson said.

Citing the Savior’s injunction to His Apostles to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), Elder Nielson emphasized the need to be wise. “Carefully analyze the methods of deception being used.”

Graduates now have a degree. “Use it. Be smart. Don’t let those who mock you from the large and spacious building divert your attention from what you know is true,” Elder Nielson said.

Those of the Gen Z generation who want long-lasting joy will need to ignore the labels being placed upon their generation. “You need to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His gospel, even when it is not popular to do so,” Elder Nielson said.

‘A legacy of honor’

In his remarks to graduates, BYU–Idaho President Henry J. Eyring shared how he has been pondering the trait of honor. Second to his parents, no one has taught him more about the principles and practices of honor than the late Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

Elder Hales was a close associate of President Eyring’s father. At one point, Elder Hales was a fellow ward member to the university president and his wife. For many years, Elder Hales suffered from several physical maladies, including heart and lung disease. 

Elder Hales’ wife, Sister Mary Hales, President Eyring recalled, was a faithful nurse and essential companion to her husband. Their family motto, “Return with Honor,” were the words written on the jet fighter plane that Elder Hales flew as a young man.

BYU–Idaho President Henry J. Eyring shakes hands with BYU-I graduate during convocation on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

BYU–Idaho President Henry J. Eyring shakes hands with BYU-I graduate during convocation on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Credit: Katelyn Brown, BYUI

Later in life, Elder Hales explained the “Return with Honor” motto was a “constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor only after having expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission” (“The Aaronic Priesthood: Return with Honor,” April 1990 general conference).

President Eyring expressed his gratitude for the strong signs of honor at BYU-Idaho, not only on the Rexburg campus, but also among online students around the world. “Honor is common among the students, employees, parents, alumni and donors of BYU-Idaho. … O may we be honorable, eager to learn and change, and wise,” he said.

The university awarded 2,308 bachelor’s degrees and 703 associate degrees. While 938 of the graduates were online students, 934 of those graduating started their college career as BYU–Pathway Worldwide students.

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