"Don't be a slave," Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve admonished the 235 new BYU-Hawaii graduate candidates gathered in the Cannon Activities Center on June 21.
He said, "We all know that slavery was abolished in the British Empire and in the United States over 150 years ago. But I have been astonished to read that there are still about 27 million slaves in today's world" including an estimated 50,000 "trafficked into or transited through the United States."
"The slavery of these tragic victims is involuntary. They are victims of someone else's decisions, motivated by greed or other wickedness," Elder Oaks said. "Fortunately, you are not likely to be victims of involuntary slavery. But if you are not careful, you can be imprisoned by another form of slavery, whose duration can be lifelong. This evil has existed since the beginning, when Satan proposed the ultimate slavery. He would have taken away our power of choice, making us robots to his will.
"The Father's plan of salvation rejected that proposal, but since His plan was based on our power to choose, we each have the power to give ourselves over into many lesser forms of slavery. I call this voluntary slavery."
Elder Oaks pointed out such slavery includes sin and drug addictions.
Adding passions and excessive preoccupations to the list, he said, "When we allow ourselves to be brought under the power of anything or anyone, we become a slave to that person or that thing." For example, he a quoted former member of the Seventy, Elder H. Ross Workman, now President of the Laie Hawaii Temple, who said: "One can be in captivity to sin or to the pursuit of worldly honors, such as fame, wealth, political power, or social standing. One can also be in captivity through obsessive preoccupation with activities such as sports, music, or entertainment."
Elder Oaks also cautioned against debt and even wealth, saying that President Gordon B. Hinckley "used the metaphor of slavery to apply to the extremes of economic circumstances" and warned over a decade ago that "there is nothing that will cause greater tensions in marriage than grinding debt, which will make of you a slave to your creditors."
President Hinckley also warned against "wrong priorities in acquiring wealth. ... Income is important, but you do not need to be a multimillionaire to be happy. In fact, you are more likely to be unhappy if wealth becomes your only objective. You will become a slave to it. It will color all your decisions."
Elder Oaks urged the graduates to shun voluntary slavery. "Prize your power of choice. Protect it against every surrender, every dilution, every threat. Hold to the values you have been taught by your worthy parents, by righteous teachers in these classrooms and others, and by the Holy Ghost whom our Father in Heaven has given to teach us and to protect us," he urged.
Quoting John 8:31-32, "one of the greatest passages in the Bible," Elder Oaks said, "True freedom is to know the truth, to act upon that truth suffered for sin and can, therefore, make us free indeed.
"When we know the truth and act upon that truth, we can avoid the slavery of which I have spoken. Each of us has the precious gift of the Holy Ghost, whose function is to 'guide (us) into all truth' (John 16:13.) By keeping our covenants we can have the assurance that we will always have that Spirit to be with us. If we do that, the Savior assures us that we will always be free."
Earlier in the commencement exercises, BYU-Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright urged the graduates to follow four "principles that will help you realize the great promises a loving Father in Heaven has in store for you." The principles are: continuous learning, setting aside time each week to do so, giving service and applying what is learned "to bless the lives of others, thereby receiving the Lord's blessings in our own life. Following these four steps will enable you to build on the foundation provided by your studies at BYU-Hawaii."
Roger G. Christensen, Assistant to the Commissioner of the Church Educational System and Secretary to the Board of Trustees for BYU-Hawaii, also shared advice with the new graduates: "Much of what you learn in college, many of the facts and details, will either be forgotten or outdated over time. However, knowing how to think and how to learn allows us to keep updated or to expand our knowledge by learning new things or to think about things in new ways." He urged the graduates to "make a personal goal to distinguish yourself by being honest at all times and in all things and in all places."
Abigail Guzman, a political science graduate and former law student in her native New Zealand, spoke on behalf of the students. She told how seeing a photo of a former Kiwi classmate graduating in legal regalia brought her to the verge of becoming wistful "at those opportunities that it appeared I had missed out on, when I looked down at my two-month-old daughter sleeping in my arms and was struck with the realization that there is nowhere in the world that I would rather be at this moment."
"I have already started my full-time post-graduate employment as a stay-at-home wife and mother. While this is not a typical job for a recent graduate in today's world, I can't think of a better use for my fine education than to apply it as I love and serve my family."
She and her husband, Roberto, who also graduated in the same ceremony, plan to move to Perth, Australia, with their daughter.