Six decades — almost to the day — after of the dedication of the Hawaii Church College by President David O. McKay on Dec. 17, 1958, and more than 55 years after the Polynesian Cultural Center opened in October 1963, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed BYU-Hawaii graduates during commencement exercises on Dec. 14.
While those two events are notable, Dec. 14 is an important day for Elder Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, for another reason.
“We are celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary," Elder Uchtdorf said during the college’s commencement exercises. "It occurs to me that there are worse places to celebrate a wedding anniversary than on this beautiful campus here on this beautiful island in this beautiful state. … And we are particularly happy to be surrounded on this special day by people who so naturally radiate warmth, generosity and love.”
But this day's importance goes beyond the campus, the Laie, Hawaii, community and the Uchtdorf family.
“This special day, 14th December 2018, is your day,” he said. “It is the day where you start another legacy in your life, a legacy of education, a legacy of strength, a legacy of families.”
Recognizing that Hawaii is known throughout the world for its beautiful landscapes, lush forests and wondrous flowers, Elder Uchtdorf said he always marvels at the beauty of the islands.
“Those of you who have studied the process of plant growth are familiar with the remarkable way plants take light from the sun and transform it into energy and new growth,” he said. “Most plants can’t survive long without light. If there is no light, there is no energy. Plants that are deprived of light begin to wear away and eventually perish.”
Without light, they cannot sustain life.
“We understand the role light plays in the growth and survival of plants,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “Do we understand its role in ours?”
Like plants, individuals must be “gatherers of light” to sustain spiritual life.
“We know what happens to plants that are severed from light. What happens to mortals, what happens to us, who are separated from the light of Christ?” he asked. “What happens when we walk in paths that shade us from God’s light? Can our spirits thrive without being drenched in the pure light of truth, the light and Redeemer of the world?”
Recognizing that graduates have spent the last few years gathering knowledge and increasing their understanding of truth, Elder Uchtdorf spoke of the special time as a season of learning and growth.
“Now, you are stepping across a threshold into a new world,” he said. “Many of you are returning to your homes or moving to areas of the world that may be far from here. Will you become a beacon of light to the world? Wherever you go, no matter your circumstance, a large part of the job description of a disciple of Christ is to become a light gatherer, a light collector, and to bear that light to the world.”
Just as Christ taught His disciples they were, “the light of the world,” and urged His followers to not put their light under a bushel, His counsel continues for all today.
“How do we acquire this light of which the Savior speaks?” Elder Uchtdorf asked. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’
“Although we can spend a lifetime understanding what He meant by that, the doctrine is so simple that a child can understand it. We gather light as we believe. As we love as He loved. And as we do as He did.”
While belief is available to all, for some it does not come easily.
“For some, it is a process that takes time, diligence, patience and earnest seeking, sometimes for a lifetime,” he said.
No matter how long it takes an individual personally, he or she can be certain that God will not “unfriend” any who draw near to Him and seek to follow His way.
“The more we are filled with God’s light, the more our hearts are filled with love — for Him and for those around us, His children, our brothers and sisters — the stronger we grow in spirit and in truth, the healthier we are spiritually.”
Recognizing all will experience times of sorrow and trial in life, it is through continuing to be a “light gatherer and disciple of Jesus Christ” that a person will experience “His abiding joy in the midst of your trials.”
“You will feel His watchful hand guiding your steps,” Elder Uchtdorf said.
Gathering light is a full-time day job, and is not something only received from a class or sermon, the leader taught.
“It cannot be checked off a list and considered completed,” he said. “It is a process of every day and every hour of your life. When you awake in the morning, you begin your quest for light. And when you finish the day, you evaluate your engagement in this specific task.”
As a person receives this light, he or she must let it shine so that others will see it and glorify God, he taught.
“This great quest for light has the power to enlighten your minds, expand your spirits, and endow you with penetrating understanding and profound joy,” he said. “It allows you to grow in the redeeming and exalting glory that proceeds from the presence of your magnificent Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Father. This is as worthy a quest for a disciple of Jesus Christ and one that is truly worthy of your best and finest efforts.”
Other speakers at the event included Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church, and BYU-Hawaii President John S. Tanner. This semester’s graduating class includes students earning 201 bachelor degrees and 15 associate degrees. Graduates come from 29 different countries and 19 U.S. states and range in age from 19-47 years old.
“We need all of us to grow in our spiritual and temporal knowledge and understanding,” Elder Clark said. “All of us need to be lifelong gospel learners.”
Elder Clark shared with graduates five elements of a BYU-Hawaii education to incorporate in their own “house of learning.”
First, make homes a sanctuary of faith in Jesus Christ, focusing on obedience, consecration, humility and trust. Second, include learning and teaching by the Holy Spirit. Third, keep the House of the Lord close — both spiritually and physically through serving and working in the temple. Forth, feast on the words of Christ. And finally, create a house of love.
“Your experience at BYU-Hawaii will be a tremendous blessing as you seek to build a center of gospel learning in your homes,” he said. “You will teach your children the doctrine of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost your children will feel the Savior’s love and see His light in you.”
President Tanner reminded graduates "who they are and whose they are" and encouraged grads to never forget their "eternal identity."
Prior to graduation, the Uchtdorfs were able to visit with and sing Christmas carols with students who work at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
“Many have young families, study hard, … in addition [to] … the regular challenges of life — pain, illness, disappointment, tragic events, doubt, everything — even in a part of the world that most of us would describe as paradise,” Elder Uchtdorf told the Church News.
Despite those challenges, “the students earn their living at the PCC in very different responsibilities, always being happy and wonderful ambassadors for the Church.”