Elder Cook shares 6 foundational principles with Ensign College graduates

Latter-day Saints will be inspired to make wise and righteous decisions if they strive to live a life based on virtue and keeping the commandments of God, said Elder Quentin L. Cook during the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday.

“We inevitably must make choices,” he said. “If we know the doctrines and principles of the gospel, we will make wise choices. If our lives are pure, the Spirit will guide us.”

Offering the keynote address during the virtual ceremony, Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed the topic “The Foundation for Happiness.”

The commencement ceremony — during which 457 students were awarded a two-year degree and 316 students a certificate — marked the first graduation held since the school was renamed Ensign College from LDS Business College. Of the graduates, 140 served full-time missions, 165 students are from 35 countries outside the United States, and 112 are first-generation college students.

Graduation statistics shared during the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021.
Graduation statistics shared during the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Cook told the graduates they “will draw on what you have been taught here at Ensign College throughout your life. The education you have received prepares you, not only for significant employment, but also for the continued pursuit of knowledge of all kinds in the years to come.”

Graduation is “one of those unique times in life when the doors to all decisions seem to be open,” he said. “In a way, this is an illusion because as you progress from this point in your life, you will need to make choices. That means you will walk through some doors but have to close other doors. You will be inspired to make wise and righteous decisions.”

Elder Cook shared six foundational principles that he learned as a young adult that have guided his decisions and choices:

1. ‘Be humble and grateful for all your blessings.’

“Humility and gratitude are closely intertwined,” he said. “We live in a very self-centered age. Social media, in particular, can easily be used for self-promotion. It has never been more important to be both humble and grateful.”

Elder Cook said he was deeply impressed that in this unusually difficult pandemic period, President Russell M. Nelson was inspired to make a worldwide message about gratitude

2. Be valiant in ‘your own testimony as a foundation for all the choices you make.’

“The foundation for every important decision and choice you will make is your testimony of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Elder Cook taught. 

The Book of Mormon is “an essential element of that testimony” and “a powerful witness of Jesus Christ and contains His commandments and teachings,” Elder Cook said. “If you will establish a lifetime goal to continue reading this sublime book, it will strengthen your desire to live His commandments and deepen your testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”

Elder Cook told the congregation they “each need a personal testimony.”

3. Commit to the eternal institution of the family as the foundation for happiness.

In Church doctrine, the family is central to our Father in Heaven’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children, said Elder Cook.

According to an article in the New York Times, many in the world are choosing not to get married or are delaying marriage, said Elder Cook. From 1920 through 1970 the percentage of married households in the United States was between 65% and 72%. Between 1980 and 2010 it dropped from 62% to 51%. As of 2020 the percentage has remained close to 50%. 

Students perform a virtual musical number during the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021.
Students perform a virtual musical number during the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although less precipitous, the drop is also reflected among Church members. “The family is an eternal institution ordained of God from before the foundation of the world,” he said. “I pray that most of you will marry and be blessed with the opportunity of having children. There is no greater blessing in this life than having children.” 

There are many righteous members who are not married for various reasons at this time, added Elder Cook. “It would not be correct to say they are ‘choosing not to be married.’ For those in this situation, please know that you play a significant role in this life and in the Lord’s Church. … When you keep his commandments you are entitled to every blessing that our Father in Heaven has for His children.” 

4. Be involved in the world in a positive way.

“As you embark on your various occupations, you can be a powerful force for good,” he said. “A very significant challenge will be to adhere to the scriptural injunction to live in the world but not of the world.” 

Graduates will want and need to be involved in the world in a very positive way, he said. “This is not an easy life; it was not meant to be. Nevertheless, we know that the Lord will cause our trials to bless us and be for our ultimate good. He will give us the strength to stand firm despite opposition. Righteousness is its own reward.”

5. ‘Live and communicate your standards to those with whom you work.

Speaking of finding and securing the right job, Elder Cook told the young adults “let potential employers know you have high ethical and moral standards, including a commitment to your family.”

During the interview process for a job at a prominent law firm, Elder Cook declined an offer from a partner in the firm for an alcoholic beverage. He later received the job and learned he was hired because he was true to the teachings of his Church. The partner, who knew Elder Cook had served a full-time mission, considered “it a significant matter of character and integrity.”

“In my years in San Francisco, I knew some members who avoided letting their associates know they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said. “Invariably they were drawn into compromising situations which could have been avoided had they forthrightly declared what they believed.”

6. You will need to be a light to the people where you live.

When Elder and Sister Mary Cook started out as a newly married couple in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s, the Church population there was relatively small. In addition, the area had become a magnet for drug usage and all manner of promiscuous and sinful conduct. A concerned stake president back then asked the leadership of the Church if leaders should encourage Church members to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In response, Elder Harold B. Lee, then a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was assigned to address the issue. He met with priesthood leaders and explained that the Lord had not inspired the construction of a temple in the Bay Area only to have the members leave. “His counsel was to create Zion in our hearts and homes, to be a light to those among whom we live, and to focus on the ordinances and principles taught in the temple.

“Mary and I determined that we would follow President Lee’s counsel. We found that when these principles are lived, we can be in the world, but not be of the world.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, participate in the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, participate in the 134th commencement exercises of Ensign College on Friday, April 9, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As the graduates spread across the world, they will be faced with many worldly challenges, said Elder Cook. “One of these challenges is that you will find the Church and its teachings are not understood and are sometimes misrepresented. Where appropriate, let your voice be heard in defending the faith and correcting false information. In a world with diverse communications and with members spread all over the globe, there is a need for your generation to respond and defend against irresponsible and inaccurate descriptions of the Church if and when they occur. I counsel you to be a light to the people where you live.”

Elder Cook — a member of the executive committee and board of trustees of Ensign College — said he has had the privilege of watching the growth and development of Ensign College. “It has a remarkable past” and “has blessed generations of students.”

In recent years, he said, the college has had great success — culminating last year with the transition to Ensign College including enhanced class offerings and degrees. He congratulated President Bruce C. Kusch, the faculty and students for their “outstanding work.”  

Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Church Education, asked the graduates to focus on the things that will bring them happiness.

“May you go forward to your next steps in life firm in your commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that true happiness — joy — is what our Heavenly Father wants for each one of us. This joy is made possible only through the Savior Jesus Christ.”

President Kusch asked the students to focus on their character. “The Lord needs you to be people of character and courage and faith,” he said. “It is the measure of who we truly are and will ultimately define us.”