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BYU Speeches

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“Look unto Him in Every Thought”

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It is such a remarkable privilege to be here with you today. The years I spent on this campus afforded me a delightful assortment of memories, but never in a thousand years would I have imagined that I would be standing here addressing you today, my dear brothers and sisters. I honor and thank my Heavenly Father for this opportunity. I had the sweetest and most distinct impression last week that my great-great-great-grandfather and my great-great-great-grandmother had something to do with my speaking here today. His name is Brigham Young, and his first wife’s name is Miriam Works Young. It is good to have support from both sides of the veil. Being a student at Brigham Young University was a life-changing experience for me. Coming from a small town in Oregon, I felt the world open up to me right here in Provo, Utah. The Spirit was alive in every classroom, in each activity, and in the incredible roommates, friends, and teachers I loved and learned from. It has been priceless over the years to watch our children have their own life-changing experiences at this wonderful university. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Gigi, our three-year-old granddaughter, “Will you go to college?” She said yes. I asked if she would go to BYU. She again said yes. Then she turned to her daddy and asked, “Daddy, will you come with me?” One of the sweet highlights of my BYU experience was meeting my precious husband, Rob. Little did we know during our growing up years that we lived just a little over an hour from each other. But we have all heard of BYU’s reputation for bringing people together, and that reputation became our reality. Rob was called as my family home evening “father,” and the ward rules prevented us from dating that year. But as soon as he was released, we made up for lost time. We just celebrated our forty-fourth anniversary. This dear man has put toothpaste on my toothbrush nearly every night of those forty-four years. I know he has been tempted a time or two to surprise me by putting something other than toothpaste on my brush, but he never has. Although life is not over yet, is it? Growing Our Spiritual Muscles My dear brothers and sisters, I welcome you to Campus Education Week! Oh, how wonderful it is to learn! We have gathered here to be taught, inspired, and challenged. I pray that the Holy Ghost will be with each of us as we learn, apply, and change. Dear friends, I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is our Heavenly Father’s practical guide for happy living. President Brigham Young explained the practicality of the gospel in these words: The principles of eternity and eternal exaltation are of no use to us, unless they are brought down to our capacities so that we practice them in our lives.1 The Lord likewise told us, “I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for yo
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Embracing the Truth

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Fellow students, graduates, parents, siblings, peers, and teachers, good afternoon! I would like to begin by addressing my peers. Friends, I expect that you, like me, are probably feeling excited today and perhaps a little anxious and maybe even a little burned-out at the end of this road to graduation. And certainly you and I are each asking ourselves the essential questions: So what? What will my BYU experience amount to? What am I going to do with it? I select the word experience intentionally in posing these questions because BYU has provided us with much more than an education. Yes, we have a shared experience of taking classes, but this has included more: living in Provo, playing intramurals, hiking the Y, dating, deliberating on the details of the Honor Code, and so on. Over the course of these experiences, you and I have encountered new facts or truths about the world and about ourselves. Some of these truths delight us—such as when we realize that an act of service we have given has lifted someone’s daily burden. Other truths are a little harder to ­swallow—such as when we recognize that the girl we have been pursuing for several weeks really isn’t that interested. Both of these kinds of truths, when faced fully, can teach us essential human lessons. I wish to share with you three stories from my BYU experience that helped me learn about the power that comes from willingly accepting the truth. I hope they will build our courage to accept both the easy and hard truths we all face. Transform Our Hearts The first story came from a study of the ­conversion of Saint Augustine, the great fourth-century Christian thinker whose story I became familiar with here at BYU. Augustine’s words are inspiring, but it was the months before his conversion that caught my attention. These were days when Augustine claimed that he wanted to follow God but had a “staggering” will, unable to commit to the godly life with a “strong . . . will” to “take heaven” (Confessions, book 8, chapter 8, 19). He famously prayed, like many of us, no doubt, “Grant me [self-restraint, Lord], but not yet” (see Confessions, book 8, chapter 7, 17). I connected with Augustine when I read this, ruefully laughing at my experience of claiming to want something divine—but not yet! Not until divine intervention came could Augustine face the truth of his reliance on Jesus Christ. In facing this truth, the once staggering sinner became fixed on Christ. From this experience I extract and share with you lesson number one: fearlessly facing truth about ourselves has the potential to transform our hearts from sinner to saint. Expand Our Secular Knowledge Our second story is a personal favorite of mine about an unsung scientific hero. Biologist Alfred Wallace was a contemporary of Charles Darwin who collected fossils around the world and had a special
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Where Your Heart Is

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Marcia and I are so delighted to be here with you today at this commencement celebration. From the bottom of our hearts, we congratulate all of you on this wonderful accomplishment in your life. It is no small thing to meet all the requirements for graduation and to make it to this place today. You should acknowledge your parents, spouses, siblings, children, and friends who have supported you during this quest for education. My hope is that this day will be a day of celebration, a day of gratitude, and a day when your thoughts will be focused on the wonderful future that lies ahead of you. Marcia and I love BYU. We met here on this campus. We both graduated from BYU, and our children were tormented every morning as they were awakened by their father singing, “Rise and shout, the Cougars are out!” Every time Marcia and I come to this campus, we reflect on the beginning of our time together. All six of our children graduated from BYU, so the Nielsons are true-blue Cougars. A Gateway to Your Unknown Future When I received this assignment to speak to you today, my very first thought was that I graduated from BYU in 1978, exactly forty years ago. My thoughts were drawn to that day of graduation. For me to introduce to you the encouragement and hope that I have for your future, I have to tell you what I was thinking forty years ago as I sat in your seat. My graduation was not a joyous occasion for me. During my last semester at BYU, I had received a phone call from my father telling me that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In spite of wonderful doctors and many priesthood blessings, my father’s health continued to deteriorate. Although he promised that he would be at my graduation, his condition was so precarious that when the day finally arrived, my mother traveled to Provo alone to be with me at my graduation. My father and I had a very close relationship. I was preparing to go to law school. My father was a lawyer and had been my mentor, my counselor, and my advisor. As I sat here in the Marriott Center on graduation day, I knew that my father had only a few weeks to live. I was also graduating as a single person, having hoped that during my time at BYU I could be married. Fortunately, my wife and I had already found each other, and I was hoping on graduation day that she would continue to be willing to marry me. My heart on that day was full of uncertainty, sadness, and a little bit of fear. Just two weeks after my graduation—as predicted by my father’s doctors—my father passed away. My plans for law school were then dictated by my desire to remain close to my mother, as I turned down admission to a law school I had hoped to attend in Washington, DC. I apologize for sharing that experience with you on this joyous occasion. It is not my intent to take the joy and happiness out of our celebration today. Rather, my hope is that I can share with you what I wi
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Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve

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There are many iconic symbols here on campus that help graduates remember—hopefully with fondness—their time at BYU. For many it is the Y on the mountain. For some it is the cougar statue at the LaVell Edwards Stadium. For others it is a particular building. Who knows, with enough time and perspective, even the Testing Center may bring warm memories. Maybe not. For many, the symbol they will remember the most is the sign at the southwest entrance to campus: Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve. This seven-word injunction has been the topic of numerous campus devotionals,1 professorial admonitions, and, most especially, commencement and convocation addresses.2 Anyone who has attended many graduation ceremonies at BYU has surely heard at least one talk on the topic. So with full understanding that I am not being original, I would like to focus on this saying one more time in a graduation setting because I believe that, notwithstanding the constant repetition, we may still underestimate the depth of its importance and meaning. A Connection Between Joy and Service First, a bit of history and context. The Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve sign was erected on campus in 1965 as part of an effort to spruce up the west entrance to campus. Judging by press coverage at the time, the most exciting feature of the redesign was not the sign or the sign on the other side of the street but the addition of an information center just to the east of the sign on the south side of the road. Touting this new addition, the Daily Universe proclaimed with seeming excitement that the small building contained heating for year-round use, a sliding window, and—wonder of wonders—a telephone that student employees would use to call ahead to those expecting the visitors.3 Times have changed a bit. The Information Center has been demolished, telephone and all. The sign has endured. When plans for the new entrance were being considered, “the university invited faculty members, and others, to submit a slogan or motto which would be suitable to be placed at the main entrance.”4 The suggestion to use Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve was submitted by Stewart L. Grow, a professor of history and political science at the university. In his autobiography, Professor Grow explained why he had submitted that slogan: Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve is . . . a distillation of my life’s philosophy. We are born to gain experience in learning and have both the obligation and the reward of serving. . . . I know of no better way to expand the joy which man should have than to create a world in which all men will be motivated to learn and to serve each other.5 Thus, from the very outset of its existence at BYU, the injunction to “enter to learn; go forth to serve” has reflected a profoun
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Hard Sayings and Safe Spaces: Making Room for Struggle as Well as Faith

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Jesus ended His pivotal and heavily symbolic discourse on the Bread of Life by declaring: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. . . .  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. [John 6:53, 56] The crowds who had followed Jesus since His miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the Jewish religious authorities who opposed Him were not the only ones who failed to understand His meaning. Even many of His own disciples exclaimed: This is an hard saying; who can hear it? . . . From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. [John 6:60, 66] Somewhat plaintively, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67). In response, Peter asked: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. [John 6:68–69]1 The expression a “hard saying” has become a trope for any doctrine or practice that is difficult to understand, accept, or follow.2 Over the past few years, when I have asked my students what are hard sayings for them, although they have mentioned faith issues and apparent historical problems, they have increasingly spoken about life’s challenges—challenges that seem to call into question God’s love for them or struggles that they often feel they must endure alone, without the love and understanding of their fellow Saints. Such hard sayings include gender disparities, sexual and other identities, and racial and ethnic discrimination. In addition, they include a challenge that is common to almost all of us—the pain of loss and disappointment, whether that comes from the death of a loved one; poor physical, mental, or emotional health; or lost dreams. These are challenges that do not go away easily. Rather, often they are struggles that we must deal with throughout our lives. While ideally we would all, with Peter, simply respond with seemingly immediate faith, the reality is as Moroni taught: “[We] receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether 12:6). Just as Jacob wrestled with an angel till dawn (see Genesis 32:24–29) and Enos wrestled all night before the Lord (see Enos 1:2–6), for many of us the trial of our faith often includes long—sometimes lifelong—struggles. I submit that these struggles are necessary to our progression, but they are not struggles that we should ever face alone. While it is true that Jesus Christ and His Atonement provide us strength, healing, and salvation, in this life He often succors and blesses us through others. Employing the image of the Church as “the body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12:27, Quaker missionary Sarah Elizabeth Rownt
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Seeing the Divinity in Others

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When our children were teenagers, whenever they would leave our home, my husband or I would usually say to them, “Remember who you are.” If you asked them what that means, they would probably say a couple of things. First, it means that they are a Wadsworth and that there are certain behaviors and responsibilities that come with that. But, more important, I hope that they would say it means they are children of God. We knew that each time we sent them out the door, they would be faced with all kinds of decisions—some that were very difficult—and we wanted to make sure they were armed with the knowledge of their divinity. I believe that knowing of our divinity changes the way we view ourselves and influences our daily decision-making. President Boyd K. Packer shared the following: You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!1 I love the counsel to “fix that truth in your mind and hold to it.” We need to be unwavering in our belief in our individual divinity. As President Packer described, we each have “a single line” that leads directly back to our Heavenly Father. The power of that single line can be accessed through prayer, scripture reading, and church and temple attendance. Each of these seemingly simple steps are vital to seeking and receiving access to inspiration and revelation from our Heavenly Father. These are the steps of “holding fast to the rod,” as illustrated in Lehi’s dream.2 And, just as promised, these steps will provide access to our own personal revelation and will “safely guide us through.”3 In Doctrine and Covenants 112:10 we are told, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” I know without a doubt that He will answer your prayers when you are making decisions about things like marriage, raising children, and a career. He will even answer seemingly simple prayers. Prayer is the opportunity to ask for and receive guidance; it is an essential part of our ­relationship with our Heavenly Father. As we come to know and understand what it means to be a child of God, we also must come to know that everyone else on this earth is a child of God. Look around you. You are surrounded by children of God. Every single person on the earth now and forever is a child of God. It doesn’t matter what their religious or political affiliation is, it doesn’t matter where they come from or the color of their skin, and it doesn’t matter if they are just like you or are vastly different from you—they are all children of our Heavenly F
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“Thy Troubles to Bless”

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Dark clouds filled the Provo sky on April 15, 2003. It was the due date for our second daughter, but there were still no signs of imminent delivery. My wife, Christine, was concerned that she had not felt the baby move for a day or so. She felt urgently that we needed to go to the hospital for a test. I thought she was overly cautious, but we went. I remember our cheerful nurse that morning, chatting away as she hooked Christine up to monitors and quickly found a heartbeat. All was well. With the monitor running, the nurse left the three of us—Christine, one-year-old Lizzy, and me—chatting pleasantly in the room. Suddenly something changed. The reassuring, regular beep of the heart monitor stopped. We called for the cheerful nurse, who assured us that this happens—babies move or monitors slip. It would just take a second to find the heartbeat. I remember the nurse’s face as she searched for the heartbeat, her smile fading, her eyes becoming serious. Still searching. She called for another nurse to try. No, she couldn’t find it either. Oh, there it was. Wait—no, that was Christine’s heartbeat. And then there was a sudden rush of nurses into the room. There were calls for doctors and hurried explanations. I sat in the corner, holding Lizzy on my lap, watching with a growing, helpless dread. Emergency C-section, they said, and they rushed out the door with my wife. Lizzy and I retreated to the hallway where, in a few minutes, a cart sped by with a too-white, too-still, too-quiet baby on it. Was that our baby? It wasn’t clear. In a room behind glass windows, doctors painstakingly inserted an IV through the tiny umbilical cord. Yes, I was told, that is your baby—not breathing, faint heartbeat, lost a lot of blood. Mother is fine. The baby—Caroline, we would call her—was placed on a gurney and prepped for a helicopter ride to Primary Children’s Medical Center. My father had arrived. We slipped our hands beneath the plastic shield that covered my little girl and placed them on her tiny head with its dark, wispy hair. In the name of Jesus Christ and by His priesthood, I blessed her with a strong heart and lungs; I blessed her with a full recovery. Then Caroline was whisked out the door to the waiting helicopter, Lizzy went home with my parents, Christine stayed at the hospital to recover, and I drove to Salt Lake City, chasing the helicopter. I felt the sudden fragmentation of our family—each of my girls now in someone else’s care and me driving alone through the rain. Over the next hours and days there were a lot of tests and questions, a lot of indefinite answers and tearful conversations. Family members, friends, and ward members joined their faith with ours in earnest fasting and prayer. Gratefully, Caroline lived. In some ways the blessing I pronounced that day was fulfilled directly. She has a healthy heart and strong lungs. She did not, however, fu
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Keeping the Spiritual Lifeblood Flowing

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Brothers and sisters, not too many years ago, as an undergraduate student at BYU, I was attending these devotionals with a wonderful young lady I had met in a BYU student ward. Through some investigation, I learned that on certain days, when I was finishing a physics class in the Eyring Science Center, this young lady was also finishing a class in the Spencer W. Kimball Tower. I was careful to make sure that each week we would “coincidentally” meet on the sidewalk of the intersection of these two buildings so we could attend devotionals together or walk to the Wilkinson Center to have lunch. This young lady and I have now been married for thirty-three years. My wife, Joyce, and I are happy to be here today and to share this brief time with you. I hope that what I say today might be meaningful and uplifting, and I appreciate the prayer and music, which have invited the Spirit to be with us. Quickening Our Pace When I was first considering what topic I might address for this devotional, I was walking home from the priesthood session of our last general conference reflecting on my impressions of our new prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. Everything—from the way President Nelson approached the stand to the manner and tone in which he delivered his messages to the new directions that were presented regarding priesthood quorums and, later, the reemphasis on ministering in the Savior’s way—caused me to reflect on my service in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I determined that in order to keep up in terms of the gospel, I was going to need to roll up my sleeves and rededicate myself to the work—early retirement didn’t seem to be an option. Indeed, if I needed to “lengthen my stride” to accept President Spencer W. Kimball’s challenge as a young man in the 1970s, I would now need to “quicken my pace” to be able to follow President Nelson’s counsel as an adult. President Nelson’s comment during the Sunday morning session of the April 2018 general conference was especially poignant to me: In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.1 Surviving spiritually and having the constant influence of the Holy Ghost are the two main topics I would like to emphasize in the remaining time we have together. Getting Off the Horse to Walk To introduce my talk and to provide a context for our discussion today, I would like to tell you a story from when I was ten or eleven years old. I was raised on a cattle ranch in northwestern Wyoming, in an area that is referred to as the Big Horn Basin, between the communities of Cody and Thermopolis. Each spring on the ranch, after the baby calves were born, we would round up our cattle and take them to a pasture area in the mountains behind my grandfather’s place. In this particular year we had alrea
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Faith to Do His Will

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I would like for us to go on a journey together. The journey I am going to ask you to take, however, won’t be a vacation. In fact, it will likely be a little painful. You see, for you to go on this journey, I need you to reflect upon a moment in your life when you were surviving a trial—a painful, discouraging trial wherein you experienced intense suffering. I need you to go back to how you felt in the midst of the darkness, the loneliness, and the anger, back to the moment when you felt you could no longer endure the heartache. It is this state of suffering that I would like to focus on today. Our mortal life can be compared to a long journey. Sometimes the journey is easy for a time: the path is smooth, the warmth of the sun is comforting, and the light breeze is refreshing. Other times—what seems to be most of the time—the journey is difficult: the terrain is steep, treacherous, and fraught with all manner of obstacles, some of which cause us to trip or stumble on our way. And sometimes the journey requires us to shoulder much more of a burden than we think we can carry. It is during these turbulent and troubling times of life that the journey compels us to descend into a dangerously deep valley—so deep that we are surrounded by numbing cold temperatures, so deep that it seems like we are descending into a bottomless chasm, so deep, in fact, that the unmitigated darkness causes us to question whether or not the sun still exists. It is under these inhospitable conditions that I reverently contemplate Jesus willingly entering the Garden of Gethsemane to suffer for the sins of all mankind. It is difficult to imagine how He felt at that exact moment. We know from Matthew 26 that the Savior earnestly prayed, asking the Father three times if there were another way to accomplish His purpose. Verse 39 reads: And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. The Savior pleaded again in verse 42, saying: O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. In verse 44 the Savior prayed again a third time, “saying the same words.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: The Lord said, in effect, “If there is another path, I would rather walk it. If there is any other way . . . I will gladly embrace it.” . . . But in the end, the cup did not pass.1 “I stand all amazed”2 at the Lord’s response as recorded in Luke 22:42: “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” This means Jesus willingly submitted to the will of the Father in order to fulfill the need for an Atonement. Jesus, in perhaps the greatest example of humility and faith, submitted to the Father’s will, even though it meant He
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Recognizing and Understanding the Spirit at BYU

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I. Introduction My family thinks that I am somewhat obsessive about all things BYU. For example, I go to sleep every night on a Y-logoed pillowcase, head out to my car each morning through a door adorned with a large magnetic Y, fly a large Y flag on my front porch on BYU game days, and display numerous BYU-themed posters around our home. These posters generally celebrate historic BYU coaches, athletes, and events, such as BYU’s 1984 national championship in football, the 2006 John Beck to Jonny Harline winning touchdown pass against the University of Utah, and a ­certain BYU basketball national player of the year in 2011 known simply as “the Jimmer” to those who adored him. I love BYU. It is a spectacular place to study and to work. Like many of you, I have a long, varied, and personally rewarding association with BYU: My mother was a freshman at BYU around 1950. At that time BYU had only a few thousand students and was housed in a small collection of buildings mostly clustered on the southwest corner of campus. As you know, BYU was and continues to be a work in progress. My first recollection of BYU was watching its fast-paced 1966 NIT basketball championship team when I was only fourteen years old. Although I am a fifth-generation Mormon and a descendant of nineteenth-century pioneer stock, I was the first member of my extended family to actually graduate from BYU. I later became a “double Cougar” when I graduated with the third class of BYU’s law school. One of my most treasured mementos from the law school is a photograph of Rex E. Lee handing me my law degree diploma in 1978. In my view, Rex was the finest lawyer of his generation. As an undergraduate student at BYU, I met my wonderful wife, Dottie, in a BYU family home evening group. We have been happily married for nearly forty-two years. All of our four children graduated from BYU and married fellow Cougars. We have fourteen grandchildren now—all ­hoping for the day when they might get to “rise and shout”1 as students at this prestigious university. To cap it all off, for nearly thirty years I have had the great privilege of working as an attorney for BYU in the Office of the General Counsel. Some may wonder why BYU needs so many highly capable attorneys and support staff members. I can only tell you that we live in legally perilous times and that the legal professionals at BYU are working hard and effectively behind the scenes to advance and protect BYU and its standards, ­values, and assets. I am really proud of all that this great collegial group has accomplished. II. BYU Is a Special Place For me, being employed at any institution of higher education would be a noble calling. Those of us associated with American higher education get to wake up every workday with an extra­ordinary opportunity to advance the greater good of society. Working t
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Revealing Questions

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We are only about two weeks into the beginning of the spring term here on campus. Many of you are current students, and those of you who have completed this period of your life no doubt remember what it is like to walk into a fresh, new classroom. At the beginning of the semester or term, the gap between what you know now and what you need to know to do well in the course is often large—perhaps overwhelming. A university education requires that you learn about many different subjects, some of which will come naturally to you and some of which you will never quite feel confident about. Some subjects will be exciting and engaging and others you will vow never to willingly revisit. Regardless of the subject, you know from the beginning that success will require you to work—usually to work hard. You will have an instructor to guide you in your journey, and she will provide you with things to read, assignments that make you think, and exams that allow you to prove yourself. You may have teaching assistants who can help you, and, of course, you have the assistance of the instructor. Learning in Mortality This model of classroom learning is one that also applies to our mortal life. Elder Robert D. Hales taught, “The purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences.”1 Similarly, the purpose of learning in the classroom is to grow in knowledge, develop skills, and be strengthened in our understanding as we work diligently to acquire new knowledge and abilities. In Abraham 3:25 we read, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” Just as you must eventually submit to examinations or other assessments to prove your learning in a classroom, we must submit to repeated tests and challenges in our earthly life. These trials allow us to prove that we are progressing in our mortal journey, and they may be particularly intense periods of growth. Just as students ramp up their efforts to study when an exam is looming, the experience of a spiritual test can heighten our own efforts to learn from the Lord. To fulfill the purpose of learning and gaining experience, it was essential that, as we were born onto the earth, we passed through a veil. In so doing, we came to earth having forgotten all that had occurred before. This is perhaps one of the most challenging things about our lives. Because we are now restricted by mortal eyes, there is much about the eternal perspective and the purposes and timing of God that we do not understand. In the same way, as we approach a new subject in a classroom, the instructor has a broader perspective, being able to see how all of the material fits together and how it connects to other fields of knowledge in a way we usually cannot see—at least in the beginning. Ignaz Semmelweis The story of Ignaz Semmelweis illustrates
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Illuminated Stories

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Students, family members, administrators, ­faculty, and staff, I am greatly honored to be here today and appreciate the opportunity to address you. Two weeks ago my wife, Vicki, and I were in Washington, DC, attending the Portrait Society of America Conference with seven of my illustration students on an experiential learning trip. Our students represented us so well. Last year while Vicki and I were in Rome, we visited the Vatican Museum and had an opportunity to view the Sistine Chapel. In an address given more than fifty years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of Michelangelo, the painter of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. He stated: [Michelangelo’s] 3,500 square-foot painting in the Sistine Chapel is said to be the most important piece of mural painting of the modern world. To be an artist [or a scientist or a mathematician could be added] means hard work and patience and long-suffering. [Michelangelo] said, “I am a poor man and of little merit, who plod along in the art which God gave me.” . . . . . . His David in Florence and his Moses in Rome inspire to adulation.1 Sketches, Studies, and Preparation A recent exhibition entitled Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eight years in the making, the exhibit included 133 drawings, which is “the largest group of drawings by Michelangelo ever assembled for public display.”2 Among the drawings exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum was a single page of studies Michelangelo drew for the Libyan Sibyl—a page I often show and display for my students studying life drawing. At the time of Michelangelo, sibyls were considered to have equal status to that of the prophets. Historically, drawings did not exist as stand-alone entities but rather as preparatory studies for more monumental works. Of drawing, Michelangelo stated: Let this be plain to all: design, or as it is called by another name, drawing, constitutes the fountain-head and substance of painting and sculpture and architecture and . . . is the root of all sciences. Let him who has attained the possession of this be assured that he ­possesses a great treasure.3 One wonders that were his statement made today, would it also include the disciplines of ­animation, digital painting, and graphic design? His letters and poetry also reveal that Michelangelo possessed a sensitive spirit. He loved and revered God, whom he considered the bestower of his talents. He fought great conflicts and battles within himself and experienced bouts of insecurity, despite his extreme self-assurance, which further fueled his desire to attain perfection and preserve his legacy. Shortly before his death, Michelangelo burned hundreds of his drawings, sketches and cartoons—a self-inflicted bon
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Banishing All Shadows

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A funny thing happened to me on the way to these services. Just to make sure I wasn’t late, I started out for Provo more than two weeks ago. And boy, is it a good thing I did. I am not sure where I made the wrong turn, but the next thing I knew I was seeing road signs that said Jerusalem, Nairobi, Bangalore, and Hong Kong! My goodness, it has taken me all I could do to finally get here. And the unusual thing about this is that it was President Russell M. Nelson who was giving me advice on the route I should take. I wonder if that is the way he always gets people from Salt Lake to Provo! Sister Holland and I come to you newly returned from one of the most remarkable experiences of our lives. Can you imagine circling the globe on a worldwide ministering assignment with the Lord’s prophet and his wonderful wife? It was an experience of a lifetime. In those oft-quoted words of Oliver Cowdery, these past two weeks with President and Sister Nelson were truly “days never to be forgotten.”1 This is not the time nor the place to regale you with stories of our experience, but I bear witness to you that President Russell M. Nelson is a prophet ordained of God from before the foundation of the world and that he is exercising that calling in a most magnificent way in public and in private. I bring you his love as chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees and the love of all those who serve with him, including Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring. It is no small matter, my beloved friends, that those giving oversight to your alma mater are ­prophets, seers, and revelators. That is just one more very special blessing you can count on this happy graduation day. On behalf of all of you and our governing board, I thank President Kevin J Worthen, his associates in the administration, those on this marvelous faculty, and all of the efficient staff at this university. I am grateful for the effort they have all put into making this day what it is for 6,300 graduates and degree recipients. Gaining an education is hard work, but providing that ­opportunity also is hard work. For nine wonderful years I had the pleasant opportunity to say to students and their families that such a thrilling day of academic triumph was more than worth the difficult days it took to get here—on everyone’s part. I know firsthand what BYU does in providing an unequaled university experience, but I know equally well and even more tenderly the scrimping, saving, sacrifice, and hard work that many students and their parents have experienced in order to arrive at this moment. Mindful of that sacrifice in a grand cause—and education is a truly grand cause—I want this to be a terrifically happy day for every one of you. You have earned it. I pray that all your days may be so. I was told I am to say something wise and original to you, but, being incapable of that, let me just remind you of one or two things you al
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The Economics of Goodness

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President Worthen, distinguished guests, faculty, graduates, ladies, and gentlemen, I acknowledge with gratitude the privilege of receiving an honorary degree from this great university and, likewise, the opportunity of briefly addressing you today. My congratulations to the graduates. I am especially pleased to see parents here. Some years ago, one of our children was graduating with a bachelor’s degree. He said, “They want $69 for the cap and gown. I am not going to walk.” I said, “What? You need to go to the ceremony! It is a rite of passage. You will value your graduation picture of you striding across the stage with your diploma in hand for the rest of your life. Look, I will pay the $69.” Sometime later I was standing on the curb at the Los Angeles International Airport, and I received a call from my son. The conversation went something like this: Me: “Hi, what’s up?” My son: “Well, I did it!” Me: “Did what?” My son: “I walked. You know, graduation. Cap and gown, got the picture, just like you said.” Me: “Wait! What? Today? What about us? We wanted to be there!” My son: “Really? I didn’t think it was that big of a deal to you.” So I would like to begin today by simply saying to all of you: This is a very big deal! And may I say thank you for including your parents. Gratefully, we witnessed commencement at his graduate school, and he now knows it is a big deal. Today I want to share with you three brief stories. Each one illustrates a simple lesson that I have observed but not yet perfected. Story One: Humor and Humility While I was governor of Utah, I attended a dinner at a mountain resort. The host asked each of the guests to introduce themselves but then added, “As you do, please tell us an important lesson that you learned during the last year.” One at a time, each person spoke. Now this was a very impressive group of people that included university presidents, prominent business leaders, and political figures. It seemed that each participant felt a need to outdo the last in eloquence and in gravitas. Shane, one of my protective service officers who traveled with me, attended the dinner. I could sense his increasing discomfort as the task crept closer and closer to him. Finally, all of the eyes in the room were focused on Shane. He stood and sort of nervously introduced himself. “As for the important lesson this year,” he said, “I protect dignitaries for a living. I completed a class on advancing events. We learned that it is critical to always plan an escape route.” He paused, put his hand on the side door that he sat next to, and said, “And I’m using mine right now!” And he disappeared into the night. It was a brilliant moment. There was a pause among this elite group, and then they erupted in lau
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Connected for Good

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Wow! What an impressive and inspiring sight to see all of you graduates gathered here today to celebrate an end and a beginning! You have entered and learned, and now it is time to go forth and serve. What exciting opportunities await you! I love BYU! BYU exists to provide an outstanding education in an atmosphere of faith. But I believe BYU also exists because of the opportunity it provides to connect us with others. I speak to you today on behalf of BYU’s Alumni Association. Our motto is Connected for Good. I want to share with you what I think that means. My dad and my mom met at BYU in a class called Your Religious Problems. They were married a short time later, which, I suppose, solved their religious problems. Four members of my family are out there with you in this sea of blue before me—part of this great BYU class of 2018. My nephew Michael studied neuroscience and is off to medical school in Arizona. My niece Lauren studied organizational behavior and is off to take a job in the human resources department of a company in Salt Lake City. My niece Lydia studied elementary education and Spanish and is off to take her dream job teaching first graders in a Spanish immersion program at an elementary school in Saratoga Springs. My son Spencer is graduating today in finance, and he is staying right here on ­campus to go to the BYU Law School. Some­day he hopes to use his BYU education and his missionary experience in Hong Kong to work in Asia. In the summer of 1987, I met my wife, Joy, here on what was supposed to be a group night hike to the Y that ended up being just the two of us. Well, that solved one of my most pressing religious problems too, and without a doubt, she is my very best BYU connection. But when we talk about our BYU connections, we aren’t only talking about our relatives. I first connected with President Kevin J Worthen when he was my state and local government professor at the BYU Law School almost thirty years ago. And yes, he was presidential even back then. While I was a student, another one of my law professors, Jim Gordon, invited me to be in the bishopric of a student ward a few months after Joy and I had married. While it was slightly intimidating spending the Sabbath with one of my law school professors, that connection during those two years created incredible mentoring that changed my life. When I studied English here before law school, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was President Holland to me. He was the president of BYU then. That connection has meant so much to me. How I love him and look forward to hearing from him today, like all of us do. My most recent BYU connection was at a meeting a couple of weeks ago arranged through the BYU Student Alumni’s BYU Connect. I met a wonderful BYU student who is an English major. She hopes to be the first college graduate in her family and someday attend law school. She dreams of bec
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The Importance of Being Present

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Elder Holland, President Worthen, distinguished guests, faculty, and fellow graduates, I am honored to address you today. It is truly humbling to speak to an audience of such talented and accomplished individuals, many of whom are my dear friends. I am especially happy to have my family here with me. I can honestly say that I would not have made it to this point if not for their presence in my life, which brings me to my chosen topic: the importance of being present, both for our own happiness and for the good of others. It has been said that “80 percent of success is showing up,”1 but even more important than our physical presence is our mental presence. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis gave a profound description of the present that has stuck with me for years. He wrote: The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered.2 Yet sometimes we live in the past like Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico, who obsessed that he could be “soakin’ it up in a hot tub with [his] soul mate” if only the coach would have put him in fourth quarter.3 Yes, you probably could have won that intramural T-shirt if not for that one ref who had it out for you. Or you may have been the next Albert Einstein if not for that one failed math test freshman year. I may or may not be speaking from personal experiences. Nevertheless, we can’t have freedom or actuality or true happiness if we live in the past. That also goes for the future. For the past few months, my wife, Laura, and I have stressed over our future plans. There were, and still are, so many unknowns. Where would I be accepted for graduate school? When would Laura graduate? Where would we like to live and work? I am sure our experience is not foreign to this audience. It is easy to say that I will be happy once I graduate or once I get accepted to grad school or once I get this job or once I have a house, but having that worldview can keep us from enjoying our current situation. Remember, the present is the time when we have freedom and actuality. Use that freedom to create a fulfilling life now instead of basing your happiness on something that has not happened yet. As we avoid being prisoners of the past and future, it is also important to avoid being prisoners to present distractions. Smartphones, while being wonderful tools, are common conveyors of distractions. We may well ask ourselves: How many friends have I passed by but not noticed because I was watching fail videos? How many test questions have I missed because I was checking Snapchat in class? How many innocent tree limbs could have been spared a collision with my face if I had looked up from Facebook?
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“College Song”

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Graduation ceremonies have been occurring at BYU since 1877; some have been more memorable than others. The graduation exercises of 1899 were unusual in several respects, especially when compared to the ceremonies we are holding today. The venue was smaller. It was held in the Provo Stake Tabernacle. And the procession was a bit longer. It went five blocks from the Academy Building to the tabernacle. The nature of the student achievements highlighted was also different from what we see today. We have students today who have worked on neonatal ventilators, NASA solar panel arrays, and the search for a cure to Alzheimer’s disease. By contrast, in 1899 the highlight was an “exhibit of handwork of the students from needle work and drawing to hardwood desks and bookcases.”1 Twenty students were honored in that 1899 ceremony, and only six of those received college degrees.2 Today we celebrate more than 6,000 graduates, all of whom will receive college degrees. One of the other distinctions of the 1899 ceremony was the debut of a song, the lyrics3 of which were written by Annie Pike,4 a student who would graduate the following year.5 Annie was a non-LDS student at what was then Brigham Young Academy. She was born and raised in Provo, her father having arrived here to serve as the medical superintendent of the Territorial Insane Asylum.6 Annie entered Brigham Young Academy when she was sixteen and graduated four years later.7 After studying at the University of Michigan, she returned to the Academy to teach in the English Department for a period of time.8 Annie had a way with words from an early age. When she was eleven, she issued her own newspaper, “writing the editorials, stor[ies], poem[s], and locals all herself.”9 According to one account, Annie would sometimes leave her dish-washing [chores] quite unceremoniously and be gone for a number of minutes. Presently some member of the family would find her kneeling at a window sill, writing. “I came to write a line that just popped into my head,” she would say apologetically when discovered.10 We do not know whether the lyrics to the song sung during the 1899 graduation exercise simply popped into Annie’s head or came by some other means, but we do know that the song she wrote as a twenty-year-old Brigham Young Academy student caught on. It was originally called the “Academy Marching Song,” but it eventually became known as the “College Song.” While not as famous as the BYU fight song, with its familiar direction to “rise and shout,”11 the song was a favorite of some BYU presidents, including Rex E. Lee. The song is kept alive today mainly through the marching band, who, after every football game, temporarily belie their name by laying aside their instruments and then, while standing in place, singing a cappella