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BYU Speeches

The University and the Kingdom of God

Friends, this morning I offer a love story. It is not the love story, mind you, but it is in some ways like the love story. The love story would take three hours (if I did it right), and I am told we don’t have time. If I were telling the love story, about the remarkable woman seated behind me, you might be struck by the story’s influence on me. In fact, please inscribe this on my tombstone: “If he amounted to anything, it is because he loved her.” I love Hollie more for the good she calls forth from me than for what she does for me. In a word, she inspires me. And therein lies my simile. This morning’s love story centers on this university and the church that sponsors it. As with the love story, my love for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and for Brigham Young University has everything to do with the good they call forth from me, with what they insist I become. Knowledge Transmission and Creation First, a word or two about universities more generally. I love them. I have always felt at home on university campuses. I have had more than one opportunity to leave academic life, but I can never seem to pry myself away. I have lectured or researched at many of the great universities in the United States and Europe and hope to visit a few more. Something about the life of the mind has always resonated with me. I find it stretching and exhilarating. It feeds my avid curiosity. In fact, when other fourth graders were getting sports and achievement awards at our year-end ceremony, I got what seemed at the time to be the lamest award of the bunch: my citation noted my “thirst for knowledge.” I must have looked devastated, because I was. That award earned me no new friends, but it at least predicted my future career. When I was early in my graduate studies at a venerable Midwestern research institution, I passed a prominent inscription that stopped me in my tracks: Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.1 I knew the plaque was not intended as a religious message, but it resonated with my religious self. “Truth” named a quest that I had long invested in, and I came to feel quite at home in that secular university community. For several centuries before I arrived for graduate training, colleges and universities had functioned as a critical mechanism for transmitting knowledge. The “modern” university was born in the late nineteenth century, however. It was oriented not merely around the transmission of knowledge; through focused research, it was to create knowledge. Such a thing has always seemed bold and exciting to me, and I have never tired of the process of knowledge creation. I suppose I love universities because

The Gift of Uncertainty

It took me a very long time to write this devotional address. Sometimes when I have the opportunity to give a talk or teach a lesson, I know immediately what I want to talk about. This happened a few months ago in my ward. The bishop came to my door and asked if I would be willing to speak the following Sunday, and I instantly knew what I wanted to talk about. When I sat down to write that talk, it felt as if the talk wrote itself. This devotional was very different. I was plagued with uncertainty about what to say from the moment I was asked to speak. Two months later, I had written and discarded pages and pages of drafts and half-formed thoughts. I did not know what the Lord wanted me to say to you today. I did not know what I wanted to say to you today. And so finally, one week before I was required to submit the text of my address, I accepted that perhaps what I needed to talk about today was not knowing. Perhaps this will be strange to say, since I have grown up in a church that encourages members from a very young age to say the words “I know,” but the thing I am most certain of in this life is that we do not know all things. In fact, on the grand scale of all truth, it is quite possible that, statistically speaking, we don’t know anything. And by that I mean that because God and truth are so vast and so big, the things we know are so small in comparison as to render that knowledge essentially nonexistent. So today I want to talk about this idea of not knowing and about finding God in our uncertainty. I want to add this caveat: I am speaking from my own perception and experience. Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, talked about spiritual gifts—the gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, of faith, and of healing.1 I will openly confess that I was probably not given the gift of knowledge. At times in my life I have had faith and I have had hope, but, in general, my knowledge has often felt a little tenuous. However, I have come to believe that uncertainty can be a gift every bit as much as knowledge is, so I will approach you today in this spirit of uncertainty. I would like to discuss several aspects of not knowing. My hope is that in at least one of them you find something helpful for or of value to living your life, attending school, developing your testimony, building relationships, and going out into the world to do whatever it is you will do on this earth. There Are Different Ways of Knowing First, I think it is helpful to talk a little bit about knowledge itself. We use the phrase “I know” in many ways, but they are not all the same. Consider the following statements: 1. I know that 2 + 3 = 5. 2. I know that on a clear day, the sky is blue. 3. I know that I love my parents. All of these statements use the phrase “I know,” but the way I know each of these things is not the same. Take the first statement. This on

“The Undiscover’d Country”: Navigating Toward the Future

In perhaps the most famous soliloquy in one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, the brooding character Hamlet reflects on choice, life, and uncertainty. Even if you have not read or seen the play, you will certainly recognize the opening line of Hamlet’s speech: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”1 But unless you are a Star Trek fan, you may have forgotten that later in that soliloquy, Hamlet refers to death as “the undiscover’d country from whose bourn / No traveller returns.”2 Today I would like to talk about a different “undiscover’d country”: not death but the future, the months and years—the life—you have got ahead of you. And, as someone well advanced in years, I feel qualified to talk about the future because I have been there, sort of, and I am here today to tell you what I have learned along the circuitous path that led to my future, which is now my present. If you are anything like I was as a student, the short- and long-term future often weighs heavily on your mind. To one degree or another, all of these future events and experiences are undiscover’d country for you, even if you are an experienced and meticulous planner. You may think you know exactly where you are headed, exactly how you will get there, and exactly what it will be like when you get there, but I am here to tell you that, in the long run, you have got a lot to learn. Adapting to Changes Some of the anxiety related to our undiscover’d country comes from unrealistic expectations, from living in an achievement culture, and maybe even from a dose of perfectionism. A couple of weeks ago, Lindsey Leavitt Brown, an author friend of mine, was speaking to one of my classes. She shared with my students her path to publication, including displaying the “books” and poetry she had written as an elementary-school student and the scores of rejections she received when she started her writing career. As a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a writer, but she did not know and had not learned exactly how to make that happen. The lack of knowledge and the uncertainty about who she was and what she wanted to be caused a considerable amount of stress and discouragement because, as she said, “I thought you had to have that all worked out by the time you were nine.” Well, she now knows she was wrong. Of course, at age nine most of us do have some idea of what we want to be and do when we grow up, but that dream often changes as we get older because we change as we get older, our ­circumstances change as we get older, and our opportunities and abilities change as we get older. It is wonderful and wise—and absolutely essential—to have dreams and goals, but it is also wonderful and wise to be flexible enough to allow yourself to adapt to the situations you encounter as you progress through life. Some of those changes occur na

Choose to Trust the Lord

My dear brothers and sisters, I am honored to speak to you today and to share my witness of the Savior and the good news of the gospel. I want to acknowledge that we are gathered in this valley that is the traditional homeland of indigenous peoples called today the Utes, the Paiutes, and the Shoshone nations, among others. I honor their resilience, and I am thankful for their preservation as peoples. I believe that the Lord has preserved many essential truths by preserving the indigenous peoples and their cultures. Just as Joseph of old stored up grain against the time of famine to save the house of Israel, and just as the record of Lehi and his children was preserved against a time of spiritual famine, indigenous peoples and cultures hold truths to teach us in this age of political, moral, and ecological turbulence. I am a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians from New York. I grew up in a small branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Cattaraugus Reservation. I am grateful for my inheritance as a Seneca, as well as for the strength of my pioneer ancestors. I receive many blessings that come to me through those who chose the path of discipleship. I acknowledge with gratitude those who came before, who showed the way, who prepared the ground for my faith to flourish, and who opened the doors for the opportunities that have been mine. Similarly, I acknowledge that this ­campus is sacred ground. It has been set apart—­consecrated—for our learning “by study and also by faith.”1 In that spirit, I hope to share a message with you that might help you navigate the difficult days ahead and the many trials of your faith that will come as your lives unfold. We will each face the trials inherent to mortality—trials of physical frailty, mental illness, heartbreak, loss, political turmoil, and rampant injustice—and spiritual trials that will surely test our commitment to the Savior and His kingdom. College is a time of tremendous growth, both intellectually and spiritually. We develop critical thinking skills and take in so much information. We wrestle before the Lord to develop and deepen our testimonies and flesh out our identities. In this age of abundant information and disinformation, how do we know where to turn as we refine our beliefs and mature our testimonies? And how do we respond as our faith passes through refining fires? My message to you today is that, whatever your trials—mortal or spiritual—you can choose to trust in the Lord. While so much around you is inconstant and fleeting, He is faithful. He will never fail you. You may rely on His love as an unerring truth. In the Midst of Fiery Trials In difficult times, you may find yourself asking, as this hymn does: Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace When other sources cease to make me whole?

The Transformative Power of Covenants

Nephi wrote in the first verse of the Book of Mormon, “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents.”1 This passage tells me something quite endearing about Nephi: he recognized that his parents contributed to who he was. I wonder if Nephi was teaching us that we are each deeply influenced by our relationships. While I am not Nephi, I do want to acknowledge that me being here today is a result of goodly, loving parents and a supportive clan that means the world to me. Wyoming is my ancestral home. I grew up and graduated from high school in Cody. My parents and grandparents grew up in Star Valley. When I meet someone from Wyoming, I immediately think of them as a kindred spirit or a long-lost friend. I often find myself trying to convince my students studying to be school psychologists to go work in Wyoming. School psychologists work one-on-one with struggling students, consult with teachers and parents frequently, and implement a variety of academic and behavioral supports for students. Because of the way that education is funded in Wyoming, school psychologists in Wyoming school districts tend to have smaller caseloads and generous resources to meet the needs of the children they serve. The quality of life in Wyoming includes clean air, amazing mountains, great skiing, and no ­traffic—except when the Fourth of July parade takes over Main Street and tourists have to wait until the parade ends. Wyoming has wide open spaces, no state income tax, a beautiful temple located in the corner of Star Valley, and sincere, salt-of-the-earth people. When we travel to Wyoming and cross the state line, my soul seems a bit more at ease and whispers, “You are home. These are your people. All is right with the world.” Just as I feel at home and connected to Wyoming and its people, gospel covenants connect us to each other and especially to the Savior. President Russell M. Nelson shared this idea about covenants in his October 2011 general conference address. He said: When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. He is our God and we are His people.2 Covenants Bind Us to Christ Being on the covenant path can give us a sense of belonging and connectedness, especially a connection to the Savior. Covenants bind us to Christ, and, because we are bound to Him, we can become like Him. Being bound to Christ means that we know Him. We feel His comforting love. We feel His guiding hand in our lives. Because we feel His amazingly generous and compassionate love, we have a desire to love as He does. When I really feel that godly love, I find that I am more inclined to focus on building up those around me. As I feel that love, being less judgmental seems a bit easier, and being generous rather than stingy seems like the right thing to do. This idea of bein

Looking to the Margins: Creating Belonging

Those of you who know me understand that I would prefer a much more intimate setting for a conversation. In fact, one of the reasons I became a clinician was because I prefer one-on-one and small-group interactions. You came to the devotional today likely preferring to hear from a charismatic and dynamic speaker. I guess my mom was right when she said that we don’t always get what we prefer. As my initial nerves begin to subside, I sincerely feel that it is good to be with you today. The Brigham Young University mission statement states, “All instruction, programs, and ­services at BYU . . . should make their own contribution toward the balanced development of the total person.”1 The mission statement also contains the idea that at BYU “the full realization of human potential is pursued.”2 Please keep these two important concepts from the mission statement in mind as we continue: We are striving to achieve (1) “the balanced development of the total person” and (2) “the full realization of human potential.” Not long ago, BYU hosted a noted scholar on the topic of student success. Dr. Laurie A. Schreiner and other scholars from across higher education have come to conceptualize the idea of college success in a way that reflects the broader, more comprehensive language found in our own mission statement. Dr. Schreiner defines success as “students getting the most out of their college experience—being intellectually, socially, and psychologically engaged.”3 In her definition we find that idea of the balanced development of the total person. In a conversation with BYU administrators, Dr. Schreiner quoted a scripture several times in order to add a spiritual context to her definition of student success. In John 10:10, Christ proclaimed, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” An abundant life is certainly characterized by the development of the total person and the full realization of human potential—our potential to become like our heavenly parents. Creating a Sense of Belonging I truly believe that our Heavenly Father desires that we live an abundant life. I am equally convinced that the One who notes even the sparrow’s fall4 desires that our time at BYU is a successful one. Furthermore, I believe that Heavenly Father endorses the broad view of student success as previously described. We are so much more than a GPA, and we are so much more than a grade on a term paper or final exam. As found in the BYU Aims, an education at BYU is intended to help “students integrate all parts of their university experience into a fundamentally sacred way of life.”5 Heavenly Father wants us to live, work, and study—and to do so abundantly. Nevertheless, living an abundant life as a student at the university is not a given, and there are several elements that must be pres

Finding Your Purpose

My great academic interest in life has been biology. I am not certain if it stems from my love of the outdoors or the fact that I was raised as one of ten children in a house teaming with life. There are many big questions encompassed by the study of biology. For example: What exactly is life? How do living things function? How was the great diversity of life created and how is it evolving? With the challenge of the great diversity of life, how do we classify life? I love each of these questions, but my favorite question is a combination of them: What is the unique role of each diverse form of life? I believe that every species has an important role to play on our planet. In All of Their Variety The diversity of life is astounding. One measure of diversity on our planet, referred to as the species number, is estimated at about 11 million species of cellular life (life that is composed of cells). We have begun to catalog and understand only a small fraction of these species, and there is life beyond cellular life. The most abundant biological entities on the earth are viruses, estimated to be greater than ten to the power of thirty-one! In fact, Costa P. Georgopoulos, a virologist at the University of Utah, compared the mass of all viruses on the planet with the mass of all humans. Although viruses are microscopic, if we were to pile them up on a giant scale, viruses would weigh more than all of the 8 billion humans on the planet, even if we were all sumo wrestlers. The abundance and diversity of life means that biologists will always have something to do. It also means that in order to succeed on the planet, a species must have a purpose and place—much like trying to find a place at the family dinner table amid nine hungry siblings. There are many examples of the unique and essential function that a single species plays and its ecological impact. For example, several studies show that removing the sea otter from a ­habitat may lead to an increase in sea urchins and a corresponding disappearance of kelp beds. This alters wave action and siltation, having dramatic impacts on the species present in the habitat. In these ­studies the effect the sea otter had on the ecology was more substantial than what was expected from their sheer number. I study bacteriophages, which are viruses that can infect and kill bacteria. The word bacteriophage literally means “to eat bacteria.” Most people think of a virus as something bad or something that makes them sick, but viruses also contribute to the health of our planet by regulating the levels of bacteria in an ecological system. In addition, viruses have useful purposes. They have recently saved the lives of individuals infected with ­antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In these cases the viruses could infect and kill bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, providing an alternative form of treatment when t

Wrestling with Comparisons

In our Church history classes, we often talk about the importance—and blessing—of openness and candor. So, in a nod to that spirit of openness, I feel compelled to admit candidly that when I first received this invitation from vice president Matthew O. Richardson’s office, I mulled it over for a day, and then I wrote an apologetic email asking if there was any way that I could be excused at this time. A couple of things factored into my sense that I just did not want to give a devotional right now. First, I have always sort of dreamed that my debut on BYUtv would be a guest cameo on Studio C, and I just was not ready to give up on my dream! If any of you know me, and if any of you know Studio C, you know that my whole life would be a treasure trove of material for new “Awkward Avoidance Viking” sketches. Second—and this held only slightly more sway in my decision-­making process—I just did not know what I would say at the devotional. And that really weighed on me. I thought about all of the past devotionals that have been so memorable. I could start running through a list right here of BYU devotionals that still stick with me. Plus, I rationalized that the intervening weeks might be too busy to put in the preparation time that this deserved. I cared too much about BYU devotionals to get this wrong! Vice President Richardson sent back a very gracious and understanding email agreeing to let me off the hook, and I felt no guilt. The next morning though, a new thought wiggled its way into my consciousness. It was one of those inner-dialogue moments—those moments that, somehow, we can just sense originate outside of ourselves. Here is how I would express that new thought: “Are you really going to tell me that you are going to pass up the chance to put in the time to think about something, wrestle with something, and learn something just because you know it is going to require work and focus? Why would you pass up on the chance to learn something that you need to learn, to put in the work so that you can put down onto paper things that now might only be swimming around vaguely in your head?” And then there came to me a quote by Francis Bacon that a former professor of mine was wont to repeat: “Writing [makes] an exact man.”1 Somehow I just knew that I needed to learn something with more exactness and with more precision through the exercise of writing it down. My guess is that many of you, at the end of our time together, might wish that the lesson I had learned was to leave well enough alone when we receive gracious and understanding emails letting us off the hook when we have nothing to say. But I was no longer in a place in which I felt like I could do that. The truth of the situation had been laid bare, and I knew that I should do this. But I still did not know what I was going to say. I just could not shake the feeling of how good past devotionals have been or the feeling

The Y on the Mountain

One of the most noticeable features of our ­valley is the Y on the mountain to our east. The Y’s expanse is so large and its presence so imposing that the mountain itself is named Y Mountain. The connection of the letter on the mountain to the history, purpose, and mission of the university is so deep and established that many refer to the university itself as simply “the Y”—a reference that continues to confound the alumni of Yale University. 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. I also hope it will serve as an ongoing invitation to them 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 the intellectual dexterity but also the spiritual strength that they have acquired here. The Letter Y That is a lot to expect from a simple letter of the alphabet, and especially one that struggled a bit to make it into and remain a part of our modern English alphabet. The letter y was introduced into the Roman alphabet—from which ours is derived—around AD 100,1 long after most letters had already arrived there.2 The letter y performed much the same role as the Roman letter i, which had made its way into the Roman alphabet 800 years earlier.3 The original function of the y was to allow the adaptation of Greek words into Roman writing.4 Thus it was called Y or I or E Greek—or i griega, for those who speak Spanish—as a reminder that it was not native to the Roman alphabet. Since it largely played a role already occupied by another letter of the alphabet, the letter y has always had a bit of a tenuous position. At least one modern linguist still decries the letter y as a “luxury . . . , or rather a great nuisance,” whose presence would not be missed and whose absence would simplify spelling rules.5 Why not, some ask, spell cycle, syllabus, and dynasty with an i instead of a y? But, despite its critics, the letter y has endured—sometimes only by means that seem serendipitous. At one time the Roman alphabet contained the letter thorn (þ). It was pronounced “th,” as in the words this, then, or the.6 While it performed a function quite different from that of the letter y, the lowercase thorn appeared similar to the lowercase y. “Over time, as Gothic script was introduced to Old English, ‘Y’ and ‘thorn’ looked too similar—and one had to go.”7 Unfortunately for the letter thorn, French printers did not have the letter thorn in their printing images in their presses, “and it became

A More Wonderful World

I am so happy and honored to have been asked to speak to you on this day that represents so much hard work, careful teaching, and eager anticipation. I have many friends and loved ones here today, so it feels much more intimate here in the Marriott Center than it otherwise might have. Sitting and listening to this talk could be a real test of those friendships! I want to thank Dr. Brooks for those excellent insights into the poison of contempt and on how love is the great antidote. My remarks are in many ways connected. Thank you, too, for the fabulous music from the BYU Women’s Chorus. The refrain from that piece of music (“I dream, I feel, I hurt, I heal”1) speaks for all of us and certainly touches on my thoughts today. Reflections As I have prepared to address you, I have inevitably reflected on where I was and what had happened in my own life by the time I was your age. I was a very poor student at school and did not go to university. I had been in a boarding school in England from the age of ten, and I spent countless hours just staring out of windows, reading magazines about airplanes, and counting the days until I could go home, dreaming only of escape. So here I am, wearing robes I haven’t earned. I have to say, they are pretty tasty robes too. I could have saved a fortune in ties, I can see. You, on the other hand, have earned your robes, your degree, and this very important stepping-stone to your dreams. I congratulate you! Many of you here are in your early twenties, and I am particularly aware that by that time in my life I had lost my father, who died in a car ­accident in Arabia when I was nineteen. My sister also lost her husband that day in the same ­accident, leaving her to raise their two young children. In the aftermath of that devastating trauma, I experienced unspeakable grief, desperate loneliness, and an emptiness that felt like it would never leave. Thankfully, my big brother stepped in to take care of all the practical issues that follow such a loss. He and my sisters led out in watching over our extraordinary mother. In the midst of it all, there were many who extended warm friendship and generous mentoring. Somehow life had to go on for the rest of us, and the love and care of ­others helped enormously. When I think of my father, amongst other treasured memories I think of his favorite music, including the song “What a Wonderful World,” made famous by the inimitable Louis Armstrong. I heard Lexi Walker sing her beautiful rendition of this a few weeks ago. The words are: I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you, And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.” I see skies of blue and clouds of white, The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night, And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.” The co

More Love, Less Contempt

President Worthen, distinguished guests, parents, friends, and members of the Brigham Young University class of 2019: Congratulations on this important day, and thank you for this incredible honor. With this honorary degree, I am proud to say that I am finally a real member of the BYU community. I have to confess that, up to this point, I have only ever impersonated a member of the BYU community. I know that sounds bad, so let me explain. Several years ago I came to this beautiful place, to BYU, to deliver a lecture. My wonderful hosts sent me home with a ton of branded souvenirs: T-shirts, mugs—you name it. You guys are great at product placement. One particularly nice gift that I got that day was a briefcase. It had BYU emblazoned across the front. Now, as it happened, I actually needed a new briefcase, but I kind of hesitated to use it because of the logo. It felt a little weird—like false advertising. See, I am not a member of the faculty at BYU, nor am I a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a Catholic. Somebody told me, by the way, that I am your favorite Catholic—but I figure you say that to all the Catholics. When I expressed this hesitance, my wife, Esther, said, “That is ridiculous. Use the briefcase. It is beautiful.” So I loaded it up and took it out on the road. I travel all the time. I am in airports constantly. And here is the thing. I noticed that people would look at my briefcase and then look up at me. They would have this weird look on their face, like, “I have never seen an aging hipster Mormon before.” (Excuse me, Latter-day Saint!) That gave me some amusement, but here is the funny part: I found that it was changing my behavior. I was acting with greater love and kindness than I ordinarily would. People would look at my briefcase, and I would want to help with their luggage. I would want to give up my place in line. That sort of thing. Why? Because I was unconsciously trying to live up to the high standards of kindness of your church and your university. At the very least, I was trying not to hurt your well-earned reputation. You know what else? I even stopped carrying cups of coffee. Look, I love coffee, but I didn’t want people to think that a member of your church is a hypocrite! I had this paranoid fantasy of some guy telling his wife, “I saw this Mormon guy in O’Hare airport ordering a venti latte at Starbucks. I knew they were hypocrites.” I didn’t want that. And you know what? That briefcase made me a happier person, a more loving person. I was like the person I wanted to be. Why? Because I was trying to be like you. So what is the lesson here? It is not that your BYU briefcases have magic properties. It is that your greatest witness to the world as members of this community is the conduct of your lives. Our nation and world need this. They need you, more than ever today. If you p

The Modern Mighty Women of Israel

What a privilege it has been to enjoy the recent general conference. I thought of one thing that happened that I would like to share with you before I begin my remarks. I was at a fairly public setting with an apostle, the Primary general presidency, and the Young Men general presidency. In that meeting, the Primary general president and the Young Men general president were saving a seat for this apostle toward the front of the room. Like most of you, I was sitting toward the back, saving a seat for the other counselor on my right-hand side. In walked this apostle. He came right up to my side and said, “Joe, is it okay if I sit here?” Well, what was I going to say: “No, you are supposed to sit up there”? So he sat down at my side. After a few moments I could tell that he wasn’t feeling well. He grabbed my wrist and said, “Joe, I don’t know what is going on. I am not feeling well.” I encouraged him to go back to his room, and I said that we had this. We could inform him what had happened later on. I knew he had an upcoming trip to Asia for about ten days. But he stayed. I could see a little bit of sweat on the side of his face. He took a drink of his water and then again grabbed my wrist. He said, “I was fine yesterday. I don’t know what is going on. I don’t feel very well.” Again I encouraged him to go back to his room. But he stayed. And then once more he grabbed my wrist, and he pulled me a little toward him. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Joe, are you happy?” I thought, “Are you kidding me? He is sick, and he is worried about me being happy?” I said, “Yes, I am happy.” And then he said, “Good. I am in charge of happy.” I want you to know that those fifteen men who we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, those who spoke to us this last week, feel that they are responsible for our happiness. So they speak directly, and they ask us to do things. I hope we adhere to what President Russell M. Nelson has said and asked during our general conferences. Let’s run to repentance. Let’s repent quickly. Impact Teachers: Training Human Souls Recently I have reread and contemplated two messages that had a tremendous impact on me when I was your age. They were both general conference addresses by members of the Seventy: “The Impact Teacher” and “The Modern Mighty of Israel.”1 I invite you to review those addresses at some other time. But I would invite you now to ­consider Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone’s summary of a statement by President David O. McKay: “There is no greater responsibility in the world than the training of a human soul.”2 Before going much further, I would like to introduce my topic with a personal experience. When I was about thirteen years of age, we lived on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. It was a glorious experience for a young

“As I Have Loved You”: Agency-Based Love in Dating and Marriage

Good morning, brothers and sisters. For more than twenty-five years, both as a student and now as a professor here at Brigham Young University, I have been personally blessed by many of the messages shared in these devotionals. It is truly a humbling experience to speak with you today. When I first was invited to give a devotional address, I was initially assigned to speak the Tuesday during the week of Valentine’s Day back in February. While I am sure that the selection of this date was simply a practical matter of arranging the schedule, for someone who has spent the last decade teaching the marriage preparation classes here on campus, I felt a certain amount of pressure to tie my remarks into a Valentine’s Day theme. Plus, one of my most memorable experiences with a BYU devotional happened many years ago when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke during Valentine’s Day week about understanding the true nature of love in dating and marriage relationships1—so I figured he would be a good role model for me to follow. However, as final scheduling was put into place, I was asked to move to this devotional slot during the first week of April. When this happened, I wondered if I should perhaps change the focus of my remarks. But seeing as how the only holiday I can tie into this week is April Fools’ Day, I figured I would stick with my original plans—although I am sure that there are some of you who have probably had some dating experiences that you would say fit an April Fools’ Day theme quite well. I should note as I get started that while I would like to talk about how each of us can more fully emulate the Savior’s example of agency-based love in our current or future dating and marriage relationships, I believe that the principles I will discuss are applicable to a wide range of other relationships as well, including friendships, parenting, and other family relationships. I should also note that while I will share some insights with you from my studies as a marriage researcher over the years, the truest and most transformative lessons I have ever had on the subject of love I have learned from my dear wife, Stefani. Indeed, the testimony of marriage that I have been privileged to share with the students on this campus for nearly twenty years stems ­primarily from the beauty of marriage that I ­experience with her every day. In a few weeks Stefani and I will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of our first date, and I am grateful every day for the blessing she is in my life. I am also grateful that all of my children could be here today, including my new daughter-in-law. I love each of them dearly, and my remarks today are as much for them as they are for anyone (but they will likely just roll their eyes and tell you that they have heard it all before). For my remarks today, I would like to address three questions about love.

Prophetic Invitations and Promised Blessings

My dear brothers and sisters, my wife, Shelley, and I are thrilled to be with you today. We both have very fond memories of being here forty-five years ago. Let me tell you a little bit about the two of us. Neither of us came from fairytale backgrounds or perfect circumstances. My wife grew up in a part-member family. Her nonmember father passed away when she was seventeen, and a beloved older brother passed away a few years later. Fortunately, when Shelley arrived here at BYU, she was ministered to by incredible students and faculty just like you—for which I am eternally grateful. While Shelley was here, I arrived as a young full-time missionary—before the MTC was even built. My parents were already struggling in a marriage that would eventually end in divorce. Soon after arriving here, I became homesick, and I became really discouraged. Then I was Dear Johned by my girlfriend at the time. In spite of all of this, it all worked out really well, because even though neither of us knew it at the time, my future eternal companion and my very best friend was right here waiting for me. We both love being here! Now, you may not come from perfect circumstances either, but I promise that if you will act with faith in your Heavenly Father and His plan—His great plan of happiness—and if you will act with faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement and follow God’s prophets, you will be given power to do whatever the Lord needs you to do and to become whatever He needs you to become, in spite of your circumstances. While I am speaking today, the Holy Ghost will also communicate important truths to you and give you guidance that you need in your life. I encourage you to write these things down and then follow the feelings that come to you. Follow the Prophets of God First, I would like to tell you about the angel who consented to be my wife after I had made four marriage proposals. When Shelley was fifteen years old, she had an experience that changed the rest of her life. At a youth conference, she unexpectedly met an apostle. He did not know Shelley or her family, but he invited her to do something really surprising. He asked, “Will you kiss your father on the cheek every night and tell him that you love him for one full year?” Shelley agreed, even though silently she thought, “This is going to be impossible!” The apostle did not know that her father was a wonderful but very, very reserved man. Shelley had never seen her father kiss anyone, including her mother, and she had never heard her father say, “I love you,” to anyone. But, as impossible as it seemed, she decided to do what an apostle had invited her to do. The first few nights as she kissed her father on the cheek and said, “I love you, Dad,” he did not react positively at all. She persisted night after night, but her father would simply sit rigid, like a statue, while she kissed him on the ch

Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Fight!

It is a privilege for me to be here, not just as a General Authority but especially as a former BYU student and as a Cougar fan. When I first stepped onto this campus more than thirty years ago as an English as a second language (ESL) student, I never would have imagined that one day I would be invited to speak at a BYU devotional. I will tell you why I felt that way in a moment, but first, let me tell you about the title of my message: “Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Fight!” It is a slogan that you have heard many times but with a little change at the end. As I was writing down some ideas and thoughts here and there during my preparation for this occasion, I was still looking for a title that could pull all those thoughts together. A few weeks ago, my wife, Mônica, and I were here in Provo to spend time with our daughter Renata and our four grandkids. When we asked them where they wanted to have lunch, to our surprise they picked Wendy’s—right there on the corner across from campus. While we were there, I saw the famous BYU sign across the street: “Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve.” I had seen this slogan many times, but at that moment it brought me a prompting. There was the title I was looking for. Using this title I would be able to put all my loose notes and thoughts together and hopefully have them all make sense. But, aware that you probably have heard great messages about this slogan many times, I decided to change the second part a little. Therefore, my version of the slogan and title of my message became “Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Fight!” And you will see why. Enter to Learn So let’s start with “enter to learn.” Now I can go back to my previous comment about being in this meeting as a former BYU student and why I never would expect such a thing as speaking in a devotional to ever happen. As I mentioned before, my first experience at BYU was entering to learn—not to obtain a degree but to learn English. I don’t know if you know that for many international students the English as a second language course is the first step to hopefully being able to apply to a BYU program. When your English still is not good enough to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), this course is a good option. That was my case. I come from a humble family with little resources to put their children in good schools or to take English courses. Also, during those days missionaries did not have the opportunity to learn English while serving a mission in their own country. There was no such program in our missions in the past. I started my mission as a young missionary knowing zero English. Two years later, my English was still zero. Maybe I knew a few more words, such as Big Mac, French fries, popcorn, and so on. But that was it. Thanks to a great missionary companion, David Boekweg, and his family and a loving mission president, John Hawkins, I had t

If You Don’t Like It, Change It

When it was announced that I would be speaking at a devotional, a list of some of the upcoming devotional speakers was posted on the BYU website. When my husband saw my name listed ahead of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder Ulisses Soares, he took a screenshot and sent it to me with text that read, “Listed in order of importance?” This gave me a good laugh but also impressed upon my mind what an honor it is to be speaking at this pulpit. Even though I feel inadequate for the task at hand, I pray that what I have prepared may benefit you in some way. As I pondered what to say, I reached out to a friend who told me that I couldn’t really say anything that hasn’t already been said before. All I could do was take you on my journey. So I hope in the process you can learn something from some of the things I have learned in my life. Two Parental Lessons The two most memorable pieces of advice I received as a child came from each of my parents. One day I came home from school in a terrible mood. Something had upset me, so I complained and vented to my mother. Even though this occurred when I was very young, I still remember her wise words: “Carrie, if you don’t like something, then change it.” I was stunned and puzzled. I thought, “Wait! I can do that?” She added to her advice by saying, “If you think you can or you can’t, you are right.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I was confused, and I thought my mother was speaking in tongues. But for some reason the phrase “If you don’t like it, then change it” has always stuck with me. Her lesson is one I want to share with you today. Through your agency and through learning to think and act for yourself, you can create the life that you want. My dad taught me the other most memorable lesson of my youth. This one came when I was struggling to choose which college I wanted to attend and play golf for. I had several offers but didn’t know where to go. Eventually I narrowed my search to three schools. Yet when the time came to sign with a school, I sat at my kitchen table staring at three National Letters of Intent with no idea who to sign with. At the time my dad was a successful golfer on the Senior PGA Tour. But he didn’t try to influence my decision. Instead he allowed me to make my own choice about college. Finally I reached out to my dad and asked him, “Where should I go?” He responded with a question: “Well, what do you want?” I was confused. “What do you mean, what do I want?” He asked another question: “What do you want out of life?” After thinking about it, I told him what I wanted. He replied, “Then choose the school that will give you that.” In order to get what you want in life, you have to first know what you want. It is hard to think and act for yourself when you don’t know what to think and act upon.

“Always Remember Him”

Good morning, dear students, faculty, and staff. What a privilege it is for my wife, Rosana, and me to be with you today. We are thrilled for this opportunity. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today. What a wonderful sight we have from this pulpit. You all look wonderful. Your faith and love for the Lord are very evident. I know how busy you are, and I know you could be doing something else at this hour. I compliment you for choosing to be here with us. I bring love and greetings to all of you from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They think and pray for you more than you can imagine. I hope you will feel how much we and the Savior love you through my message today. A Special Generation As I was preparing for this devotional, it came to my mind how special and blessed you are—all of you. You came to earth during a very significant time in world history. You have been preserved to be born at this time when we are preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. President Russell M. Nelson, and his wife, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, recently addressed the youth of the Church, and they referred to them as a special generation, and surely that applies to you young adults as well. Listen to what President Nelson said: Our Heavenly Father has reserved many of His most noble spirits—perhaps, I might say, His finest team—for this final phase. Those noble spirits—those finest players, those heroes—are you! . . . . . . You are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world.1 And Sister Nelson said: There has never been a time like this in the history of this world. Never!2 Truly there has never been a time like this in the history of this world! We are living in a time of significant technological, medical, and scientific advancement. Information is available to everyone. Not long ago, when I was your age, we didn’t have any of these powerful tools you have available in your hands that allowed us to communicate and obtain information so quickly. This is a great time to be alive. However, we are living in challenging times that have been prophesied for centuries by prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern. Throughout history they have expressed their concerns about the last days. We have seen steadily declining moral values that have dramatically changed the world through the years. Modern communication has drawn people into the world and its values, and secularism has changed the way people see God’s hand in their lives. As a result, we witness an increasing number of people who are confused about their identity as children of our Heavenly Father. They also have become confused about what really matters in life, and many who were once strong in faith have de

Stand Forever

As part of an assignment I had as a General Authority a few years ago, I needed to read through a great deal of material antagonistic to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the events of the Restoration. There may not be anything out there of that nature I haven’t read. Since that assignment changed, I have not returned to wallow in that mire again. Reading that material always left me with a feeling of gloom, and one day that sense of darkness inspired me to write a partial response to all such antagonistic claims. I would like to share with you some of the thoughts I recorded that day, and although what I wrote was for my benefit, I hope it will help you as well. I wanted to give a different talk today. I wrote other talks more entertaining, with more stories—more engaging than this one—but each time I wrote a new talk, I was directed back to this one. Will You Stand Forever? The prophet Daniel said that in the last days shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.1 The kingdom of God is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will “stand for ever.” The question is, Will you and I stand? Will you stand forever, or will you go away? And if you go, where will you go? Deception Is a Sign of Our Time When the Lord described the signs of His coming and the end of the world, when He described our day, He mentioned many things, including wars and rumors of wars, nations rising against nations, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and many other signs, including this one: For in those days [this day] there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.2 I am not sure of all that is implied by the qualification “if possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” but I think it means, at least, that everyone will be challenged in our day. Paul said, “We see through a glass, darkly.”3 Similarly, one of the most prominent features of the vision of the tree of life is a “great mist of darkness [in which] they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.”4 The Broad Spectrum of Deception There are many who deceive, and the spectrum of deception is broad. At one end we meet those who attack the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. Next we see those who believe in the Restoration but claim the Church is deficient and has gone astray. There are others who also claim to believe in the Restorati

Can You Hear the Music?

My beloved brothers and sisters, my dear friends, Sister Uchtdorf and I are so grateful to be with you today. We bring you the love and greetings of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. You young people are the strength and future of the Church of Jesus Christ all around the earth. You are the Latter-day Saints who will be a blessing to the world. We love and admire you! One year ago, almost exactly to the day, Harriet and I spoke to all the young adults of the Church from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City regarding your adventure through mortality. We will never forget that wonderful evening with you, and some of you might even remember our messages.1 Harriet and I are amazed by your goodness, humility, and desire to embrace your membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how you love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s children. We are better people as a result. I hope that you will feel the Holy Spirit ministering, uplifting, and instructing you as we meet together. The Man at the Subway Station On January 12, 2007, a man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt walked into a Washington, DC, subway station, pulled a violin from its case, and began to play.2 He put his soul into the performance, sometimes pounding his bow against the strings, sometimes gently caressing them to bring out soft and sorrowful tones. As he played, more than a thousand commuters passed through the train station on their way to work. They had busy days ahead of them: lists of things to do, worries, and troubles. Their minds were occupied with everyday trivial things—like where and what to eat for lunch, how their favorite sports team was doing, or whether anyone would notice their new glasses. Some, undoubtedly, were wrestling with greater problems: a challenging health diagnosis, relationships that were unraveling, financial loss, or some other pressing anxiety. In short, these people were people like you and me: unwrapping the gift of a new day, even the gift of a brand-new year, but consumed with the trivial and tragic, the petty and profound. Did they notice the musician? Or was the man with the violin merely part of the impressionistic blur that shaded the all-too-familiar backdrop of their daily lives? What these commuters did not know was that this musician was no ordinary violinist, he was playing no ordinary instrument, and he was playing no ordinary music. The man’s name was Joshua Bell—one of the most accomplished musicians in the world. The violin he played was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari. Joshua Bell had purchased it a few years earlier for an estimated $3.5 million. And the music he played was some of the most challenging and beautiful ever composed. Now, this whole experience in the subway station had been set up by a journalist from the Washington Pos

Knowing Who You Are

It is wonderful to be here with you today, to know that you have arrived safely from your travels, and to see in you the bright hope of anticipation that accompanies a new year and a new semester. We Have a Divine Nature Let me begin with a story that may sound all too familiar to some of you. The airport had been packed for hours. The usually crowded holiday travel conditions were exacerbated by weather-related delays and cancellations at other airports. Hundreds of frustrated travelers were scrambling from one gate to another as they sought alternate ways to reach their destinations. At one gate, the line to talk to the agent stretched for more than fifty yards. One of the passengers in the line was a well-dressed and obviously impatient man. As he glanced at his watch with ever-increasing frequency and tapped his foot at an ever-increasing rate, it was obvious to all around him that he was not a person who was accustomed to waiting. Finally the man could stand it no longer. He bolted from his place in line and stomped up to the gate. Pounding his hand on the desk, he bellowed, “Do you know who I am?” An awkward silence instantly gripped the area. The agent at the desk calmly picked up her telephone and, in a steady voice, said, “We may need a little additional help at Gate 19. There is a man down here who doesn’t know who he is.” My question to you today is, Do you know who you are? This question may be more complicated than it at first appears. If someone were to ask you right now who you are, some of you might answer by identifying yourself as a BYU student—a worthwhile identity. Others might be more specific and identify themselves by their major or their year in school. Some would answer based on their home or place of origin. Those of you from Texas know what I mean. Some might identify themselves by an extracurricular activity in which they engage, a sport they play, or a talent they possess. Some might choose to identify themselves by their church calling, by an office they hold, or by their relationships with others, such as wife, husband, father, or mother. Each of these answers would be truthful in the sense that they accurately describe a portion of who you are. And to some extent they may be the most appropriate response because of the context in which the question is asked. Our response to the question Who are you? will likely vary from time to time and place to place. And sometimes those answers, in the abstract, will contradict one another. Thus, knowing who we really are can get a bit complicated. But what if you had to fully identify yourself in a single sentence? Could you in one sentence describe yourself in a way that would be accurate in whatever circumstance or whatever stage of life you might find yourself? It wouldn’t be that you are a freshman, for that will change. Or that you are a BYU student, for that will also change—

Spiritual Gifts

Welcome to winter semester 2019. We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you have a prosperous year. A Christmas Gift On Christmas Eve several years ago, the Kim family, who were members of our ward, stopped by our home to give us a gift. They are from Korea, and they are incredibly talented. Sister Kim is a pianist, Brother Kim plays the flute, and each of their children play a stringed instrument. They are all accomplished musicians. That Christmas Eve they entered our home with their instruments in tow—with the exception of Sister Kim, who used our piano. Their gift to us was a musical performance of Christmas carols in our living room. Words cannot adequately express how beautiful and heavenly it was. I have to admit that I was a little sad when they concluded their performance. Imagine my joy when the following Christmas Eve, the Kim family stopped by our home to perform again! This time, however, when they were packing up their instruments to leave, Brother Kim informed us that they would return the following Christmas Eve to perform, but they expected us to be prepared to perform something for them. Of course we wanted them to return, so we agreed. After they left our home, Kevin and I quickly assessed our situation. We had one year to come up with something very special that we could perform for the Kim family, and we knew that, in reality, we really needed much longer than a year! After some thought, however, Kevin and I decided that we could sing a Christmas carol for them in Korean. We chose “Silent Night” because it was one song I thought I could play on the piano while everyone else sang. Then we asked a friend who had served his mission in Korea to write out the Korean words for “Silent Night” phonetically so that we would at least have a chance of pronouncing the Korean words correctly. When the next Christmas Eve arrived, our little choir—which consisted of our family and friends who were at our home that night—practiced the song a few times before the Kims arrived. We were as prepared as we could be for our performance. The Kims arrived, and after we had waited a whole year, it was finally time for us to perform for them. I sat down nervously at the piano and began playing, and our choir began singing “Silent Night” in Korean. We managed to get through the first line of the song just fine. The Kims sat and listened politely. Then we made it through the second line just fine too. The Kims sat with pleasant looks on their faces. I knew that we were on the home stretch, and I was feeling pretty good about our performance. And that is when it ­happened—the part of “Silent Night” that goes “sleep in heavenly peace” (Hymns, 2002, no. 204). Well, as soon as the choir sang the word sleep, every member of the Kim family—who had been sitting there watching and listening to us very quietly, respectfully, and graciously—burst o

“This Is My Day of Opportunity”

Thank you all for coming. I feel the weight of saying something that will help you this morning. I want to share a message from my heart. I want to tell you some things that have helped me. Let me start with a story. Although I grew up in Provo, right before my junior year of high school, my family moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. President Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet at the time, called my father to serve as a mission president, so my family packed up and off we went. When I moved back to Provo for my freshman year of college, I came alone and saw the BYU campus through the eyes of a new freshman, away from home and family. I didn’t know a soul when I moved into the dorms. I had been lonely in high school, but I determined that I would use this opportunity as a fresh start. My brother challenged me to learn the names of three new people each day and then call them by name whenever I saw them. I volunteered for service opportunities that took me outside my comfort zone. Of course, even talking to some people was outside my comfort zone! I learned that focusing on others made me happier. It was here at BYU that I found joy in keeping my covenants as I got myself out of bed on Sunday mornings and attended church. And I learned the value of time. I know that you are entering finals. Your time is precious, and you may be feeling anxious about that. I honestly still have a recurring nightmare that I am back in school during finals week but that I didn’t attend class all semester. In fact, in my dreams I can’t even remember where my classroom is when I try to attend one last class period before the final! We can all relate to the feelings of fear and panic when we realize that there may just not be enough time to finish what we have committed to do. Speaking of panic, I remember walking into the Testing Center. There were times I walked in with dread—knowing that I was not prepared but that it was too late to do anything about it. Other times I remember feeling a quiet confidence; I had paid the price and felt comfortable in my mastery of the material I would be tested on. This life is like a testing center. Occasionally we are given true-false tests in life—clear right and wrong choices, moments of truth. At those moments, stand up. Stand tall. Choose with courage. But more often, everyday life hands us multiple-choice tests—and sometimes they feel like the ones we take in which we are convinced our professor is trying to trick us. Is it A? B? C? A and C? All of the above? Or none of the above? All the choices may be good but wrong for this moment. Do we study or go to the temple? Major in French or philosophy? Multiple-choice tests of life—including our decisions about the use of our time—require wisdom and deeper understanding. That is why they are given to us by our schoolteachers and by the Great Teacher and Refiner of our souls. Amulek reminded us that “this life

Your Duty to God and Your Fellowmen

What a magnificent building this is! I like to think of it as one of the temples of learning seen in vision by several during the early years of this institution. It exists as a result of the extraordinary efforts of so many: generous donors, skilled architects and laborers, energetic LDS Philanthropies employees, and dedicated and visionary faculty, staff, and administrators. There are so many to thank that time does not permit a full recital, but I would be remiss if I did not mention five individuals, beginning with Jack Wheatley and Ira Fulton, whose visions of a new engineering building go back nearly twenty years. I also thank Kelly Reeves, who led the LDS Philanthropies effort. And I want to thank, in particular, Alan Parkinson and King Hussein. These two led the way from the very beginning. They attended seemingly innumerable planning meetings, conceptualizing the macro and the micro of what this building should be. They also traveled tirelessly across the country in search of funds—in one case literally taking on the role of Moses, leading the way to a new promised engineering land. Through sheer determination and amazing consecration, they, with help from so many others, almost willed this building into existence. I thank them for their leadership, and I thank so many others for following their lead. Thanks is also due to those who—long before any of us were involved at BYU—laid the foundation for the outstanding engineering programs this building will house. Included among them is the person for whom the former engineering building was named: Harvey Fletcher. I hope that our faculty and students who occupy this building come to know Harvey, not just as the name of the café but as a role model for what we hope happens in this building. Harvey Fletcher was born and raised in Provo. He initially entered Brigham Young Academy in 1900, a year after he had finished eighth grade—a level of education that he thought was as much as he needed.1 After a year working full-time in the grocery business, he decided to go back to school, later recording that he did so “not because I wanted further education but because I thought it would be fun to be with my schoolmates again.”2 It was with that modest goal that Harvey began his experience at Brigham Young Academy. Like many of our current students, Harvey found that his classes at Brigham Young Academy were a bit more difficult than in his prior school, and, in part because he did not do the assigned work, he failed his first physics class.3 But, showing the resilience we hope our students develop, Harvey retook the course and obtained the highest grade in the class.4 Shortly thereafter he was hired as an assistant in the physics lab, and during his last three years of college at the newly renamed Brigham Young University, he taught physics and math.5 After his graduation from BYU in 1907, Harvey attend

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