Friday’s BYU–Hawaii commencement services marked a return to some “normal” graduation practices.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and health guidelines, the seaside university, which includes a large international student body, canceled in-person classes at the onset of the pandemic and transitioned to online-only instruction. The past five graduations have all been conducted virtually.
But on Friday, Dec. 10, for the first time since winter 2020, graduates were able to don the long black gowns and caps with tassels and troop single file into the Cannon Activities Center on the Laie, Hawaii, campus to the refrains of the “Pomp and Circumstance” march. While each graduate’s face was still partially obscured by a mask, their smiles were reflected in their eyes as their names were called and they walked across the stage to applause.
In welcoming the graduates to the in-person ceremony, BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III — who began his service in May 2020 — noted that he was “usually talking to empty chairs” and expressed his gratitude for the cooperation and sacrifice that enabled them to meet again on campus. “What a wonderful event for all of us,” he said.
Read more: Graduating during the pandemic — How Church schools are seeking to honor graduates despite COVID-19 restrictions
‘The Lord has a work for you to do’
Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy offered the keynote address and assured the 276 graduates in attendance that as they leave their beloved campus, there are people waiting in the world who need them. “Whether you begin a career at home or abroad, or move on to additional education, there are people who need your knowledge, your skills, your faith and your strength. The Lord has work for you to do.”
As graduates begin to make a difference in the world — in both large and small ways — the Lord will guide and bless them in their journeys as they seek to serve Him and bless His children, Elder Cook promised.
To illustrate, Elder Cook shared a story from his youth working on an Angus cattle farm in Warren, Utah.
As a 15-year-old, Elder Cook worked for a rancher named Harold Thompson, who raised prize-winning Angus bull calves. Each “beautiful and valuable” Angus bull had its own herd of cows to ensure that offspring were pure-blooded calves.
One day, Thompson detailed a plan to move the different herds to new pastures that had more feed. Elder Cook was told to move the first herd to pasture A, then move the second herd to pasture C, then move the third herd to pasture E, and so on.
Thinking he could save a lot of time and effort, Elder Cook deviated from Thompson’s plan and began to move the herds according to his own ideas.
Everything went well until two big bulls caught sight and smell of each other and began to seek dominance. The two massive bulls collided heads with nothing but a wire fence between them. The stronger bull seriously injured the other bull, and the bulls having pulled down the wire fence in their struggle, the cows from the two herds began to mix, putting the bloodlines and pedigrees for both herds in question.
Fifteen-year-old Elder Cook realized that if he had kept to Thompson’s instructions, he would have kept an empty pasture between the bulls at all times. Instead, he had put the lives of the prized bulls and the pedigree lines of the valuable cows in jeopardy.
“My dear brothers and sisters, my message to you is that just as Mr. Thompson carefully created a plan for me to move the cows successfully, Heavenly Father has a plan for each of you,” Elder Cook said.
Following Heavenly Father’s plan
Those who follow Heavenly Father’s plan will be successful and experience true, enduring joy in life, Elder Cook said. “I know Heavenly Father loves you. He will guide you and He will help you along your path as you look to Him in faith.”
Heavenly Father can direct individuals in a variety of ways, Elder Cook said. Sometimes He offers direction as individuals pray and study the scriptures. Patriarchal blessings are filled with personalized counsel. Heavenly Father also guides individuals through ordained apostles and prophets — “if we accept their messages as from the Lord Himself and choose to follow them in faith,” Elder Cook said.
Following God’s plan requires faith and humility and putting off the prideful natural man as described in Mosiah 3:19: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord… .”
Elder Cook testified, “I know as we humble ourselves and submit our will to the will of the Lord, He will help us find and follow His plan for us.”
There is no way to know what experiences lie ahead, Elder Cook told graduates, “but wherever you go and whatever you do, I pray that you will take your testimony of God with you and continue to follow His plan for you. If you do, you will be blessed and you will prosper.”
‘Choose you this day’
In his remarks, President Kauwe invited graduates to consider the story of Joshua, the prophet who led the children of Israel to the Promised Land.
In speaking to the Israelites, whom he worried would honor or worship things that were not of God, Joshua states, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve … as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
President Kauwe explained that Joshua is helping his people understand that serving the Lord means forsaking other things they might value more than Heavenly Father or the covenants they have made with Him.
“The strong and simple choice to serve the Lord and forsake other influences will direct your actions in every choice you make moving forward,” President Kauwe said. “It is not sufficient to squeeze the Lord into a few minutes of your life here and there. We cannot serve Him by nodding toward the heavens on a few occasions each week, or even each day.”
As graduates face challenges in the days ahead, Joshua’s injunction becomes even more important. “Will you listen and follow the prophet’s direction for us? Will you choose to serve the Lord in sincerity and truth? Will you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?” President Kauwe asked. “You will,” he responded. “And you will be blessed.”
Of the 276 graduates, 268 earned bachelor’s degrees, seven earned associate degrees and one earned a teaching certificate. They come from 32 countries and 24 U.S. states and range in age from 19 to 60.