Thursday marked a day of celebration, relief, anticipation and perhaps even a bit of anxiety for more than 8,000 students graduating from Brigham Young University.
Each graduate faces a future equipped with promise, hope and a college degree — but there’s still plenty of uncertainty and doubt.
Just don’t forget “how much you are adored in heaven and how joyful and fulfilling our path of discipleship on earth can be,” said Elder Patrick Kearon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Presidency of the Seventy.
Thousands of graduates, relatives and friends gathered in the Marriott Center for the morning commencement services. This year’s class again reflects the Church-owned school’s global reach. Graduates came from 66 foreign countries, 49 states (no Delaware) and two U.S. territories (Guam and American Samoa). The average age of all graduates, including graduate students, is 27.
Elder Kearon began his commencement remarks by recalling his late father’s love for him.
“I remember his loving encouragement, his joyful view of the world, and generous propensity to see and encourage the best in people,” he said. “I realize that he let me experience hard things, even leaving challenges in my path to prepare me for the life that he could see I would lead.”
Another loving father — “your Heavenly Father” — is also willing to do anything for His children.
“He wants nothing but your eternal happiness and success,” said Elder Kearon. “He is providing you with a learning experience so much richer than the one for which you are being honored today. You are being prepared for life — eternal life and exaltation.”
The Father has tailored a personalized syllabus for each of His children because no two are alike. He is eager for all to return “joyfully” to Him.
“The course He has created for you is entitled discipleship, and the path of discipleship is your life’s work,” said Elder Kearon. “This will be your training ground, where you will be proved and learn what you need to learn to make your way home.”
Graduates leave BYU with much more than a degree to aid them on the disciple’s journey home, he said. Through the Spirit, they are equipped with faith, strategies and understanding to see the world as it really is as well as to enjoy the journey and choose to be happy.
Elder Kearon said President Russell M. Nelson reminded Latter-day Saints during general conference to become “better disciples” and more “natural ministers.”
“We are slowly getting used to having less structure and guidance, no boxes to check, and much more love, as we look after and look out for one another. We are learning over and over again the joy of simply caring for each other in the Lord’s way.”
The Church’s 17th president is also challenging disciples to turn their homes into sanctuaries of faith and centers of gospel learning — even while deepening their convictions to the Lord.
“It might surprise you that President Nelson calls all of this ‘repentance’ — this spiritual growth, this strengthening of our faith, this doing better and being better than we have ever done or been before.”
It’s clear that repentance has not been properly understood. There are too many “negative responses” often associated with the principle.
“When it is described as I just did, however, we should feel differently, with no hesitation and no discomfort,” said Elder Kearon. “This fresh and much brighter understanding of repentance will be vital on our path of discipleship.”
Repentance is not steps on a checklist — but rather a condition or state of a happy, peaceful life. It is much more than merely stopping sin. “It is turning away from the natural man in us and turning back to God, returning to Him with our changed behaviors, minds, and hearts.”
Outside of the one “unpardonable” sin, repentance offers the gift of forgiveness for everything else.
Many of God’s children across the globe suffer from poverty, oppression, injustice, war and corruption.
“As you set goals and make plans for your life, working to relieve the suffering and lift the burdens of others should be present in your endeavors,” he said. “These don’t have to be grand acts. You may not be in a position to make a global impact, though some of you will, but all of you will be able to do your part in spreading light, hope, peace, joy and love in your circles of influence, helping to make this a more wonderful world for more of God’s children.”
Seek opportunities to engage in public service in communities. If possible, get involved in politics — but avoid “the political tribalism and contempt which has become so destructive across countries and continents.”
The Savior’s charge to take the gospel to all corners of the world remains.
“Determine to serve wholeheartedly in every ward or branch you may live in,” he said. “Plan now to serve a mission in your older years. There are no earthly medals for service and discipleship. Most of what we do in service to others will never be recognized or honored, except by God, who sees it all.”
Heavenly Father is cheering His children on in their race against sin, he concluded. “Now you must go and help make this a more wonderful world for all of God’s children.”
Musician, social scientist and academic Arthur C. Brooks, who was awarded an honorary doctorate on Thursday, also shared remarks at the commencement.
The best-selling author warned of contempt — a feeling defined as an absolute conviction “of the worthlessness of another.”
Studies have determined that “indicators of contempt” are the biggest warning signs of divorce.
“These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor, and — worst of all — eye-rolling,” said Brooks. “These little acts effectively say, ‘You are worthless’ to the one person, your spouse, that should love more than any other.”
Contempt can also tear apart a country. “America has developed a culture of contempt — a habit of seeing people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect or misguided, but as worthless.
The remedy for contempt is love — but it’s not always easy.
“It requires people who will not run away from the problem, who are unafraid to infiltrate the culture of contempt, and who are capable of modeling a better set of values,” he said. “It requires the agility to be in the culture, but not of it.”
He challenged graduates to “sanctify your learning and work by lifting up and bringing together our great nation.”
BYU President Kevin J Worthen spoke of Y Mountain that majestically towers to the east of the BYU campus.
“I hope that for today’s graduates the 'Y' on the mountain will serve as a reminder of the knowledge they have gained, the things they have done, and the persons they have become during their time at BYU,” he said. “I also hope it will serve as an ongoing invitation to add to the impact of what some call 'the spirit of the Y' — a spirit of service and character that emanates from not just from the intellectual dexterity, but also the spiritual strength they have acquired here.”
President Worthen noted there is value in viewing life from an eternal perspective that emanates from an understanding of God’s eternal plan of salvation.
“Our lives will be happier and more productive, and we will have greater strength to meet the challenges that will inevitably come our way.”
Trust God’s “remarkable promise” that He can make all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
“You may not see it immediately, but God can make all things work together for your good,” he said.
California native David W. Kastner represented BYU’s Class of 2019 on Thursday.
Commencement, he noted, signals a beginning.
“Today we are faced with an entirely new set of problems that require a new generation of renaissance men and women,” he said. “We will be the ones to create connections where there were once disconnects, build bridges where there were once chasms and find understanding where there was once confusion.”
BYU Alumni Association Jonathan Hafen welcomed the graduates to the university’s growing family of alums. He spoke of the importance of building and protecting connections with others.
Graduate Kayci Griffin, an exercise and wellness major from Texas, said the counsel offered by Elder Kearon and the other speakers will guide her as she makes tough decisions moving forward.
"Even though my future plans are unclear, the thing that gives me direction, and always should, is that I am to continue on the path of discipleship," she said.