LAIE, Hawaii — Calling upon a U.S. Army slogan, "Be all that you can be!" President Thomas S. Monson addressed graduates of BYU-Hawaii Dec. 14 in Laie, Hawaii.
"To assist you in your respective journeys through life, I suggest four helpful guideposts," President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, said. "They are easily remembered. They are true friends to every traveler. Let us heed them: First, glance backward; second, look heavenward; third, reach outward; and fourth, press onward."
President Monson was the keynote speaker for the December 2002 commencement ceremonies. The 234 graduates receiving their degrees represented 19 states and 33 countries. Also offering brief remarks were BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway and valedictorian Joseph Marler.
In his address, President Monson expounded on the "four helpful guideposts:"
"Glance backward. A review of the past can be helpful — that is, if we learn from the mistakes and follies of those who have gone before. And if we do not repeat them."
He cited Pulitzer Prize winning author John Toland, who, in commenting on his monumental book, The Rising Sun, declared, "There are no simple lessons in history. It is human nature that repeats itself — not history."
President Monson referred to Thornton Wilder's classic drama "Our Town," in which Emily Webb, who died in childbirth, is allowed to relive her 12th birthday. The story is told of life in Grover's Corners and the grief of Emily's husband, George. "Emily returned to her resting place. When night had fallen, George approached, full of grief, and threw himself on Emily's grave. She felt pity for him and for all the rest of the living, for now she knew how little they really understood of the wonderful gift that is life itself."
"Look heavenward. Doing so is much more inspiring. From the heavens came the gentle invitation, 'Look to God and live.' (Alma 37:47.) We have not been left to wander in darkness and in silence uninstructed, uninspired, without revelation."
Speaking of how Joseph Smith "sought heavenly help by entering a grove which then became sacred," President Monson asked: "Do we need similar strength? Does each need to seek his own Sacred Grove? A place where communion between God and man can go forth unimpeded, uninterrupted, and undisturbed is such a grove."
"Reach outward." Continuing, he said: "We do not live alone — in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor's wretchedness. 'Love thy neighbor' (3 Nephi 12:43) is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection.
"This truth inspires the familiar charge, 'Go forth to serve.' Try as some may, we cannot escape the influence our lives have upon the lives of others. Ours is the opportunity to build, to lift, to inspire and indeed, to lead."
President Monson continued: "The New Testament teaches that it is impossible to take a right attitude toward Christ without taking an unselfish attitude toward men. . . . We may think as we please, but there is no question about what the Bible teaches. In the New Testament there is no road to the heart of God that does not lead through the heart of man.
"We cannot be careless in our reach. Lives of others depend on us. The power to lead is indeed the power to mislead; and the power to mislead is the power to destroy."
Responsibility was taught effectively, he said, in a lesson from World War II: After several men at an Air Force base died when their parachutes did not open during training exercises, it was decided that periodically the men who packed the chutes would jump, using those they personally packed. "Not a single death occurred — then or later."
"Press onward. Whatever part you choose to play on the world stage, keep in mind that life is like a candid camera; it does not wait for you to pose. Learning how to direct our resources wisely is a high priority. We don't have to keep up with the change, we have to keep ahead of it.
"Press onward we must, for we understand full well that attacking is not solving. Complaining is not thinking. Ridiculing is not reasoning. Accountability is not for the intention but for the deed. No man is proud simply of what he intends to do. Let us not be deceived," he said.
President Monson encouraged members of the assembly to not be frightened. "Rather, let us be challenged. Only the human mind has the capacity for creativity, imagination, insight, vision and responsibility. And I urge you to develop your heart with your mind, to care as well as to think.
"Graduates, will you follow the guideposts? Will you glance backward, look heavenward, reach outward and press onward? Our beloved Savior beckons us to follow Him. The choice is ours."
In his remarks, President Shumway told how his life had been significantly changed by the words of President Hugh B. Brown, former counselor in the First Presidency, at a commencement ceremony many years ago. "Today we have heard from another prophet, a counselor in the First Presidency, who has spoken with eloquence and with power of testimony.
"May your lives reflect everything good that you have learned, that you have witnessed, and that you have experienced here at BYU-Hawaii."
Valedictorian Joseph Marler, an art graduate from Laie, encouraged his fellow students to "make decisions according to true principles."
He related how he was supposed to graduate from Kahuku High in 1996 but dropped out instead. "I sat right here in the Cannon Center and watched all my friends graduate," he said, noting that the experience caused him to reflect on how he must make better choices.
He said the best choice he made was to serve a mission. After completing a general equivalency degree, he was called to serve in New Jersey, where, he said, he learned the value of work and commitment to a worthy cause. After returning to Laie, he was admitted to BYU-Hawaii on probationary status and committed himself to working hard to obtain a degree.
"One of the biggest shocks of my life was checking my grades after that first semester and seeing all A's," he said. "I had never seen that by my name before.
"Invest your time in something worthwhile. I'm grateful for my parents (both professors at BYU-Hawaii) and for the opportunity I've had to study here and to be among chosen people."