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Ensign College commencement honors 1st class of bachelor’s degrees, ‘made for a contest’


The first graduates to earn bachelor’s degrees from Ensign College got their diplomas on Friday, April 8, in the first in-person commencement since 2019 under the banner of Ensign College.

Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy, told the graduates that while they are graduating at a time where local and world events may seem daunting or scary, new graduates must not allow such things to cause them to shrink from pursuing their duties and their dreams.

“What a magnificent sight you are!” Elder Holland said. “As I look out and see your happy smiles, your well-earned sense of accomplishment, your immense, exciting potential, and the radiant light of gospel goodness that shines about you, I am filled with awe and absolute delight.”

Students graduating in spring 2021, fall 2021 and winter 2022 were in attendance in the Tabernacle on Temple Square for the morning procession and exercises.

A new name and an ensign to the world

Ensign College changed from LDS Business College on Sept. 1, 2020. When the announcement was made in February 2020, Ensign College President Bruce C. Kusch explained that “the scriptures use the word ‘ensign’ to describe the new and everlasting covenant, a symbol of peace, a guide to the gathering of Israel and a light as a standard to the nations. As students come to the college to learn and study and then go forth as disciples of Christ, they become standard bearers for His gospel. They become ensigns everywhere they go.”

Read more: LDS Business College becomes Ensign College — Why it’s about more than just the name change

Elder Holland told the graduates the full import of what President Kusch said rests upon their shoulders and will for the rest of their lives. 

Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to graduates at Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to graduates at Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Today, you stand ready, and must go forth, as a true ensign to the world — a bright and brilliant banner waving in the wind, beckoning all people in all nations to see in your life that the gospel is great and glorious, the ultimate source of prosperity, peace and joy,” he said. “As an Ensign College graduate, this is your charge, now and forever.“

The new graduates are going out into the world with news of a pandemic, international conflict, rising inflation, and cultural, political and social divides.

Elder Holland said there is surely cause for concern and worry. “But, remember your charge. You are trained and prepared ensigns.”

‘Made for a contest’

Elder Holland quoted a letter author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to a friend during a time of intense challenges. Stevenson wrote, “And the battle goes on — [whether it goes on] ill or well, is a trifle … I was made for a contest.”

Elder Holland told the graduates, “You, too, were ‘made for a contest.’“

He said: “Whether your battles prove mild or intense, occasional or constant, physical or spiritual, domestic or international, or even some combination of all of these, like Robert Louis Stevenson, you must not allow them to cause you to shrink from actively pursuing your duties as well as your dreams.“

Favorable conditions never come, said C.S. Lewis to students in the heart of World War II. And along those lines, Elder Holland told the graduates to not wait for perfect times to start a career, launch a new venture, serve a mission, date, get married, begin a family or stand for truth and righteousness.

Graduates laugh and talk in their procession toward the Tabernacle during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Graduates laugh and talk in their procession toward the Tabernacle during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Periods of conflict and tribulation are common in human history, said Elder Holland, but they need not be periods of complete stagnation and misery. He told the graduates to “meet life with vision, vigor and great joy,” no matter the circumstances.

“You were made for a contest. And you were also made to be happy,” he said. “And, far more than any physical, earthly condition, happiness rests upon coming unto Christ, exercising faith unto repentance, keeping His commandments, and looking to Him as your Deliverer in all things.”  

Let God prevail’

President Kusch told the graduates they may have questions about their future. They may not even stay in the same career or eventually work in a profession that has not yet been created.

“The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to change you,” he said, and to go where the Lord needs one to be.

He told them that as they let God prevail in their lives, as the Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, has taught, they will see incredible blessings and direction for their lives.

Ensign College President Bruce C. Kusch delivers a few remarks during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Ensign College President Bruce C. Kusch delivers a few remarks during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let anything He needs you to do take precedence over any other ambition?” President Kusch asked.

He explained that the decision to let God prevail is the most important decision people can make. From time to time, significant opportunities come that can test one’s willingness to allow Him to prevail, especially when what they want is different than what He wants, but “capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ willingly let God prevail in their lives.”

“As you choose to let God prevail in your lives, you will experience in your life that our God is a God of miracles,” he said.

From Ghana to graduate

Ephraim Martey, who earned one of Ensign College’s first bachelor’s degrees, was the graduate speaker on Friday morning.

He spoke of growing up an orphan in Ghana, and wading through rivers to get to a small building where he attended school. In high school, he drove a taxi at night to earn money. His mission companion asked his own family to write to him as well when his companion realized he had no one to write to. That family helped Martey get to the United States for an education.

He was awarded a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in business management — accounting. Now he has been accepted into a graduate program in accounting and will work for a top U.S. firm.

Graduate Ephriam Martey speaks during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Graduate Ephriam Martey speaks during Ensign College commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Martey reminded his fellow graduates to remember who has brought them this far, and who will guide them in the future — the Savior, Jesus Christ.

He quoted Nathaniel in the New Testament, who asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazereth?” and said others may ask, “Can there any good thing come out of Mexico? Ghana? Bolivia? Brazil? Venezuela?“
”Yes, it can,” he answered. “If God answers the prayers of a poor orphan West African boy like me, he will answer your prayers.”

The graduates

Friday’s commencement included 982 awards given to 553 graduates. Those awards included 528 certificates, 447 associate degrees, and six Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. Those six are the first since Ensign College started offering bachelor’s degrees in the fall of 2021. 

Read more: LDS Business College changes its name and makes another historic announcement

Rueben Hernandez Garcia came to Utah from Spain in 2017, and at first thought he would transfer to another college. But when Ensign College started offering bachelor’s degrees, he stayed — and earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in cybersecurity.

After the commencement exercises, he told the Church News how much the commencement speakers inspired him.

“I feel like I am an ensign to the world. I feel a lot of responsibility to carry the name of Ensign, and more importantly, the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We have to follow Jesus Christ and bring His name when we go out to serve and when we come home.

An Ensign College graduate poses for a photo during commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

An Ensign College graduate poses for a photo during commencement in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Sara Holmes and her husband moved to Salt Lake City from Southern California for her to attend Ensign College when their youngest child left home.

Their four children, in-laws and three grandchildren saw Holmes get her diploma as she was awarded an associate degree in interior design. 

“My emotions caught me a little off guard today, this was a long time coming,” she said.

Holmes said the remarks from the speakers helped increase her faith as she moves on to this new chapter.

“I don’t know if it is because we haven’t gathered in so long, but the spirit was so strong,” she said. “I am inspired to make the world a better place and do my part.”

The numbers also include 85 online students who received certificates through BYU-Pathway Worldwide. President Kusch said the campus has been blessed by international students, but now they are blessed by thousands more who are in the BYU-Pathway system.

Of the graduates, almost 40 percent are from 23 countries other than the United States, with 51% of the graduates being first-generation college students. They stood at the invitation of President Kusch and received applause from the audience in the Tabernacle.

Sister Patricia Holland, Elder Holland’s mother and the wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, accompanied her son and sat next to him on the stand. She attended the institution as a young woman, and in 2012 was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

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