PROVO, Utah Speaking to the largest graduating class in BYU history during spring commencement exercises April 24, President Thomas S. Monson offered simple advice: "May your goals be clear; may you reach out to others with kindness and generosity and may faith guide your life."
Graduates, said the first counselor in the First Presidency, "you not only enter your new world you help to shape it."
President Monson presided at the ceremony, which not only marked the conferring of bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees on 4,621 graduates from 50 states and 52 countries, but also the "graduation" of Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy, who completed service as BYU president May 1.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Dale Thomas Tingey, a former seminary and institute teacher and advocate for Native Americans, also received doctorates of Christian service from BYU during the commencement exercises, while former Intermountain Heath Care executive Pamela J. Atkinson received a Presidential Citation.
"Today you will lay aside the cap and gown the traditional symbols of academic accomplishment and will look backward with pride on your achievements and look forward with hope to the future," President Monson told the graduating class. "In the future you will enter the classrooms of learning as teachers, the halls of justice as attorneys, the corridors of hospitals as technicians and nurses and the plants of industry as leaders in business. I trust that you will not forget the lessons you have learned at Brigham Young University."
While preparing for the future, President Monson continued, one should remember the phrase "think to thank, which provides the finest capsule course for a happy marriage, the formula for having enduring friendships and a pattern for personal happiness.
"One of the problems of this troubled world in which we live is that people think more of getting than of giving, of receiving and not even stopping to express thanks for that which is received."
During his keynote address, Elder Ballard spoke with the graduates about some of his experiences in life. "I have learned along the way a few things that might be helpful to you," said Elder Ballard, who will be 75 this year. "Be wise and careful in the decisions that you make. Seek constantly and strive to live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The power of the Spirit will work with you and will help you to know what you should do and what you should not do."
For example, he said, in 1958 he was approached by Ford Motor Company to introduce in Salt Lake City a new line of cars the Edsel franchise.
"From the minute I saw this new line of automobiles, I had an impression: 'Don't sign the franchise.' That was the Spirit whispering to me, 'Don't do this.' "
However, Elder Ballard said he signed anyway. "In just one year, Ford Motor and its Edsel dealers lost hundreds of millions of dollars. That was real money in 1958. The result of not following the prompting of the Spirit was that my loss took my company very close to the brink of bankruptcy."
The lesson, said Elder Ballard whose company did recover with hard work, the support of good partners, diligence and through maintaining unquestionable integrity is to listen to the promptings of the Spirit.
On another occasion, he continued, he "had a strong impression" as a young 30-year-old bishop to visit an elderly sister in his ward. It was late and he put off the visit until morning; when he arrived at the woman's home he learned she had passed away in the night. "Here I am on the doorstep, and of all the people in my ward who deserved to have her bishop hold her hand, and give her a blessing of peace and comfort, it was this dear sister. I missed that opportunity because I didn't listen."
Elder Ballard told the graduates that there is no education more important than learning to know and to respond to the prompting of the Spirit. "Stay worthy and live for the companionship of the Spirit," he said.
Offering his final graduation address as BYU president, Elder Bateman issued the students a "final presidential challenge."
"It is my firm conviction that your presence at Brigham Young University is not by happenstance. . . .," he said. "You have been provided an extraordinary education largely at Church expense. . . . Your leadership is needed in this world if peace is to be realized. In order to be a leader, you must be true to the principles that you have been taught. There are absolutes. There are rights and wrongs. There is a God to whom we will ultimately answer. If we are to be leaders in our communities, we must be honest, fair, respectful of others and then accountable for our actions."