Invoking three British "voices from the past," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled Snow College graduates to seek what is truly important, never forget how they've been blessed and be secure in God's love for them.
Elder Holland received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters prior to delivering the commencement address on a pleasant Saturday morning, May 1, to 755 graduates and guests who filled the arena in the campus Activity Center. He was accompanied by many family members including his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, and, joining him on the stand, son Matt Holland, president of Utah Valley University.
Charming his audience with humor about his age "([my notes] are a little damp from traveling on the ark"), Elder Holland called upon Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, writer Rudyard Kipling and poet/preacher John Donne to help him teach the graduates of the central Utah junior college.
He explained that the ambitious Cardinal Wolsey rose to political power and wealth in the court of England's King Henry VIII, becoming "the second most powerful man in the British realm." However, he quickly lost everything when, as the church's representative, he was unable to deliver a divorce for the king from Catherine of Aragon.
"Wolsey was stripped by King Henry of every office and all property," Elder Holland said, "accused of treason. Wolsey fell ill and died while on the way to London for his likely execution.
"What a tragic end to such a gifted beginning," Elder Holland said, then asking, "Where did it go wrong?"
He answered, "It went wrong when ambition became more important than conviction; when corruption transcended fidelity; when power and wealth created a thirst that honest living could not satisfy."
Many of the traits that brought down Cardinal Wolsey, including selfishness and pride, have caused the current global economic crisis, Elder Holland said, warning the graduates to avoid those traits.
"For Snow graduates, it must be the permanent things, the reliable things forever: truth and industry and love, family and friends, humility and sacrifice and faith," Elder Holland said.
"As you stand on the threshold of your bright and beautiful future, may heaven strip from you this very hour, this very instant, any budding taste you may have for acquiring unseemly wealth or authoritarian power or worldly acclaim for acclaim's sake. I pray you will always have money sufficient for your needs, and I pray you will always exert a righteous influence wherever life's journey takes you, but I ask you not to be lured by the siren song of avarice and greed, or the quest for unrighteous dominion over your fellow men and women."
Elder Holland continued, "Student life and student wages have already taught you that to be happy you do not need the most expensive car, the most fashionable clothing, nor the most elegant furnishings in your home. Furthermore, in the years ahead, neither your self-esteem nor your standing before God will hinge on being at the top of the corporate pyramid."
He then called upon Kipling to teach another lesson.
The writer's oft-quoted "Recessional" was written in 1897 at the zenith of the British Empire. Elder Holland said Kipling soberly asked Queen Victoria's subjects on her Diamond Jubilee "to consider the love of God and the sacrifice of thousands of people which had made that present moment possible, and with what arrogance and ingratitude it might forever be thrown away."
The poem includes the words: "Lest we forget — lest we forget."
Elder Holland said, "Part of what needs to be said on any graduation day, where we celebrate so much of what you have newly gained and what excitingly lies ahead, is to remind one another never to forget what has been so generously given to us by those in the past."
While the graduates were rightfully the stars of the day, he told them to take time "to remember again what so many have sacrificed and done for you in order that you could be here today." He included parents, family, faculty, friends, staff, administrators, spouses, children, taxpayers and many others "who have made it possible for you to rejoice as young kings, queens and captains today.
"The true meaning of such blessings can be lost all too easily if we fail to offer that ancient and everlasting sacrifice — a humble and a contrite heart."
He told the graduates, "Promise to remember Snow College, its wonderful traditions, and the people who made all this possible for you today. And when you do remember, be grateful."
As they go forward with their lives, Elder Holland acknowledged, the graduates might suffer discouragement, disappointment or despair. "You may even make a mistake or two, and worry that the chance to succeed or be safe or be happy in life has eluded you forever because of those mistakes," he said.
But, "such troubled times always pass — or at least they can if you want them to," he said.
He quoted from one of the preacher Donne's sermons: "But God had made no decrees to distinguish the seasons of his mercies. In paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in Heaven it is always autumn. His mercies are ever in their maturity."
Then Elder Holland said, "Above all else you have learned here, may you leave this great school secure in the promise of God's unfailing love for you. … If you desire God's mercy, I promise you that help will come to you."