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BYU Speeches

If You Don’t Like It, Change It

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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”

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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”

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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

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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

“That They Might Have Joy”

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My beloved brothers and sisters, there is an understandably subdued spirit on the campus of Brigham Young University today. I have thought about you and the student involved in the incident yesterday without ceasing since I learned of this episode. This morning I arose very, very early, and I would like to share with you briefly just a few thoughts that may be of some assistance to all of us. I invite you to consider and to connect four things. First, consider the titles used to describe the Lord Jesus Christ by Isaiah: “Wonderful, Counsellor [please note the word counsellor], The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”1 Connect that title of Counsellor to this verse from Alma: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.”2 Connect those verses to these lyrics in the hymn “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” from Sister Emma Lou Thayne: Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace When other sources cease to make me whole? When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice, I draw myself apart, Searching my soul? Where, when my aching grows, Where, when I languish, Where, in my need to know, where can I run? Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish? Who, who can understand? He, only One. He answers privately, Reaches my reaching In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend. Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching. Constant he is and kind, Love without end.3 Last, connect those lyrics to Alma’s description of the Savior: And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.4 With all the energy of my soul, I bear witness that the Lord Jesus Christ lives. These are not words on a page in a book. These are literal, actual spiritual truths. And as His servant and in His name, I promise you will receive the counseling you need from the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace. Susan and I are grateful to be here with you. We love you, and we love Brigham Young University. I desire and pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost for you and for me as we focus now together on things of eternal worth during this devotional. Learning from the Lord’s Servants at BYU

“I Can Sleep When the Wind Blows”

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My dear brothers and sisters, it is indeed an honor to be able to meet with you in this beautiful facility on this gorgeous campus. I feel like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind when she said that she drew her strength from Tara. I feel strengthened and revitalized each time I drive onto this campus. My wife and I have so many wonderful memories of Provo, Utah, and Brigham Young University. Sister Bowen and I both graduated from this marvelous institution—she in elementary education with a minor in music and I in English with a minor in Spanish. I proposed to Sister Bowen on the stairs of the lower campus during fall semester of 1976, near the Karl G. Maeser Building. I know the very spot. Our first child, Leisle, was born in the Provo hospital in 1977. Sister Bowen picked me up in front of the administration building as we rushed to the hospital. I was so nervous and excited! What a responsibility! I was going to be a daddy. We now have seven children and twenty-three grandchildren. We have been married forty-two years, yet, somehow, I still feel I am twenty-three. To quote Jacob, “The time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream” (Jacob 7:26). We have found and continue to find peace, joy, and happiness through our family. I witness that the plan of happiness presented to us by our Father in Heaven has not changed, that the sealing of a man to a woman in the house of the Lord is essential for us to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and ultimately become like our Father in Heaven, and that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has never been revoked. True happiness is found as we strive to become an eternal family. Some members of the Church remain single through no fault of their own, even though they want to marry. . . . [Those who] remain worthy . . . will someday, in this life or the next, be given all the blessings of an eternal family relationship. The Lord has made this promise repeatedly through His latter-day prophets.1 Character, Honor, and Integrity As I begin, let me share with you one of my favorite stories. Many years ago the old country fair in parts of England was, besides being the place of exhibition for farm products, [the place] where employer and employee met. . . . Farmer Smith wanted a boy to work on his farm. He was doing some interviewing of candidates. A thoughtful looking lad of about sixteen attracted him. The boy was confronted with a rather abrupt question from the gruff old agriculturist. “What can you do?” The boy swung back at him in the same style, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” . . . Notwithstanding he didn’t particularly like the answer to a civil question he got from the teenager, t

How to Have Joy and Fulfillment

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In my last general conference talk, entitled “Seeking the Lord,” I spoke of the importance of making inspired decisions in the online world in which we live today. As I referred to the use of technology and, in particular, the use of cellphones, I said that “life is not confined to a four-inch screen” (José A. Teixeira, Ensign, May 2015). I just want you to know that since then I have upgraded to a six-and-a-half-inch screen. Nonetheless, the statement remains true: Life is not confined to a screen, no matter the size. It is good to be here with you this morning. I will not talk about technology today. Rather, I hope to share a few lessons and principles that will help you find joy and fulfillment in life through making inspired decisions and setting wise priorities. Sister Teixeira and I were both born in Portugal, though she spent her childhood in Africa. I will come back to that part of the story a little later. Portugal is a country founded in AD 868 with a rich history and culture; it is situated in the westernmost part of Europe. We have lived almost all of our married life outside of Portugal though—primarily in Germany, France, and Switzerland—because of my professional career before I was called to full-time service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our three children—the youngest of whom is here with us today—were born in Portugal, Germany, and France. They studied in Switzerland, Germany, Brazil (while we served a mission in São Paulo), Portugal, England, and the United States. Our two boys served missions—one in Tokyo, Japan, and the other in New York City. After this very brief introduction, you may be saying, “Wow! That is a lot of places and a lot of change.” Indeed! I am sure you can imagine that as we lived in all of these countries, we were faced with many decisions and choices—what we needed to do, which direction we should go, and how we should set priorities in order to find joy and fulfillment both individually and as a family. The same will be true for each of you. In your own unique way, you will undoubtedly have to make decisions and choices and set priorities that will shape your life. Part of the impression I want to leave with you today is that making inspired decisions and setting wise priorities is a matter to be considered at all stages of your life, particularly at the stage you are in now. Your priorities of today will be your joy and fulfillment of tomorrow. Some additional context might be useful to illustrate what I am trying to share with you. Remember the Greatest Priority Let me start by talking about my own country. The location of Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture and its people’s way of living: Portuguese

Strength and Safety Through Gathering

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Brothers and sisters, you are an impressive sight. I commend you for taking the time from your busy schedules to participate in this devotional. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a strong tradition of gathering together to be uplifted and inspired. The semiannual general conference we enjoyed earlier this month is a good example. For more than 130 years, the Church’s general conferences were held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000 people. In 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted that the Tabernacle was getting too small to accommodate those who wanted to attend conference. That is when President Hinckley announced plans to build the 21,000-seat Conference Center.1 Why go to all that trouble—especially with technology emerging that would allow general conference to reach more and more people in their homes? Well, it seems that gathering is important to the Lord. As President Hinckley later said: The building of this structure has been a bold undertaking. We worried about it. We prayed about it. We listened for the whisperings of the Spirit concerning it. And only when we felt the confirming voice of the Lord did we determine to go forward.2 Now we can hardly imagine general conference without the Conference Center. Any of you who have attended general conference know that there is something powerful about being in the Conference Center with 21,000 other Latter-day Saints—just as there is something powerful about this gathering at today’s devotional. Clearly, both general conference and BYU devotionals are about more than just receiving a spiritual message. If that were their only purpose, the speakers could simply prepare their messages and have them published. But part of what makes general conference and BYU devotionals so meaningful is that they involve gathering—in the Conference Center, here in the Marriott Center, and in many locations worldwide. I also find it interesting that the Church’s revolutionary PathwayConnect program, which uses the internet to bring the blessings of education to people around the world, includes weekly gatherings at a local Church facility in addition to online coursework. These gatherings are considered a vital part of PathwayConnect—and many students report that they are their favorite part.3 I believe something powerful happens anytime we gather as God’s covenant people anywhere in the world, no matter how many people the gathering may include. That power can be difficult to describe, but perhaps these words of the Savior explain it best: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Our Father in Heaven wants to gather us because there is great strength and safety in gathering. He has said “that the g

“We Seek After These Things”

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Dear brothers and sisters, my wife, Susan, and I are grateful to be with each of you today on this special campus. Don’t you love fall and a new school year? Some here today are freshmen. Welcome. I learned many things as a freshman. For example, as a new freshman, I learned that, while it was not necessarily obvious to me, most people could immediately tell if I was wearing a collared shirt or a collared pajama top (even under a sweater) to class. Similarly, as a new freshman, I learned detergent and bleach are both used to wash clothes but with quite different effects. Some here today are seniors. Welcome. You are trying to decide which is harder—graduating or knowing what to do after graduating. We know how you feel. Some here today are preparing for missions with faith and anticipation, and some are returning from missions with spiritual maturity and significant service and testimony. We thank you. In the rhythm of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, of missions, of seeking a companion who doesn’t get transferred, and of graduate studies, there is a wonderful sense of our time and our season. Don’t you love President Russell M. Nelson? In this month’s general conference, President Nelson promised: If we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.1 Across the world, there are only four places where we find in close proximity a house of the Lord, a higher-education campus sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a community of Saints seeking learning “by study and also by faith.”2 Of course, in every institute, Pathway group, or righteous gathering where two or three come together in His name,3 we delight in seeking after that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”4 Daily I am grateful for things I learned and experienced at BYU—sometimes years ago. I could not have imagined then, until I have needed them now, how valuable and significant formative BYU lessons and experiences can be. Here is an example. On a recent flight from Salt Lake City to New York City, my seat assignment was changed at the last moment—in this case, perhaps not without purpose. I asked my new seat companion if she was traveling to New York or Milan, the plane’s final destination. The question opened a conversation. After explaining she had spent her life as a bilingual, bicultural Italian-English translator, she began quizzing me about Italian art and culture. As she queried me about Michelangelo, I remembered a BYU humanities class with Professor Todd A. Britsch. I was able to say that in Michelangelo’s statue Pietà, the same piece of Carrara marble feels alive and lifele

Humble Uncertainty

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Students, one month of the semester is now past. For you beginning students, there is plenty of growth ahead, and I invite you to anticipate the time in a few years when you will assemble in this place wearing graduation robes to receive your degree. For those in the middle or finishing up, I invite you to look back on your experiences here and contemplate the value that attending college has added to your life. What If God Gave Us What We Asked for Instead of What We Need? Now, imagine if, during the second week of your first semester, while feeling sorry for yourself after failing a quiz, you had texted your parents about your doubts regarding college. Consider how great your relief and consolation would have been had they immediately driven to Provo, packed you up, and taken you back home, where a fake diploma, conveniently purchased online, was sitting on your bed along with a note reading, “It’s just a piece of paper anyway!” I am certain, however, that the relief would have worn off rather quickly, especially as you came to realize that you would be living the rest of your life in your parents’ basement! College is anything but “just a piece of paper.” It is all about the unique experiences you have, the struggle and confrontation with weakness, the self-discovery and overcoming, the ripening and growing in wisdom, and especially the learning that will happen with roommates and part-time jobs as much as—if not more than—in class. Actually, life itself is very much like college. There may be times of fear when we wish for the tests and exams to be simplified or waived altogether and when we ignore the fact that life is a complex system designed by loving Heavenly Parents to make us into better people and prepare us to confront an eternity of expanding opportunities. Sometimes, when we pray to have our trials end quickly, we are like first-year students sending home pity-me texts. If God were to immediately grant our request and swoop in and rescue us, well, then for us eternity might just prove to be something of a basement experience. Instead, God, like other wise parents, knows that great things will come out of the difficulties and challenges we face because He knows our eternal identity. We, on the other hand, are clueless about that identity most of the time and live our lives forever perched on the edge of a dark, inscrutable path we call the future, uncertain of what it contains. We cannot see what lies ahead, and most of the time that makes it discouraging, if not utterly terrifying. This morning I would like to explore some ideas about how we might move forward into the future to become all that God knows we can become. One of the things I like most about my discipline of comparative literature is that it often brings together a variety of interesting works of literature under the same analytic microscope, often with very surprising results. In that spirit, I woul

Loving Our Neighbors

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In the 1970s my father arrived on BYU campus to begin his studies. He was not the average BYU student, especially during that time period. My father had come to BYU from Venezuela, a country that many students at BYU had never even heard of at the time. He spoke virtually no English, and he was Catholic. The way my father likes to tell the story, he boarded a plane to the United States, excited to venture outside of his conservative Catholic upbringing and expecting the secular American college experience he had seen in Hollywood movies. Imagine his shock when he discovered that his parents, my abuela and abuelo, had arranged for him to attend BYU so that a group of people known to him only as “the Mormons” could keep an eye on him while he was far from home. My dad found himself in a strange place surrounded by people who were very different from him. He found the sights and smells of his tropical Caribbean home—mango trees, macaws, coffee, and the ocean—replaced by those of BYU. He was struck by the flowerbeds on campus, which changed with the seasons; the empty streets and closed storefronts every Sunday; and the snow. But the students and faculty of BYU welcomed him into the community with open arms. Professors invited my father to share his perspective and experiences in class; roommates and friends took my father skiing and on road trips to see the United States. A professor invited my father to live with his family for several months while my father adjusted to life here. My father could have chosen to transfer to a different institution, but he returned to BYU every fall from Venezuela. He learned English here, and then he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. It has been almost forty years since my father was a student at BYU, but he remembers his time here very fondly. In fact, while I was growing up in Venezuela, my father could spot missionaries of the Church from a mile away. Even though he was not a Latter-day Saint, he would look for them and talk to them, often asking if they were BYU students. I am grateful to the BYU community for being so welcoming to someone with life experiences so unlike the majority’s; for being willing to listen to and learn from someone with a different culture, language, and religion; and for making room in their individual lives for someone who might have seemed like an outsider. I too have been the beneficiary of others’ efforts to reach out to people from different walks of life. My early childhood was spent in and around the city of Maracaibo in Venezuela. My mother, a U.S. citizen whom my father had met here at BYU, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took me to church with her on Sundays. During the week, though, I attended a Catholic school for girls. At the beginning of my first year at Colegio Altamira, one of the nuns at my school—I wish I remembered her name—tapped me on the shoulder and

That We Might Have Joy

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We are taught that “Adam fell that men might be; and men [and women] are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). The second half of that truth makes clear that we are all here on earth to learn from our experiences and especially to learn how to have joy in our lives. However, the word might in that equation indicates that having joy in our lives is not a given. It says that we might have joy, not that we will have joy. Joy is something we have to choose. I believe that how we approach that choice, rather than the circumstances in which we find ourselves, is the key factor in whether we will have joy. I believe that most of us have much more control over whether we are joyful than we may think. Let me illustrate. The story is told of a gentleman named Harvey Mackay, who was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey. He handed [Harvey] a laminated card and said: “I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk, I’d like you to read my mission statement.” Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: Wally’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment. This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean! As he slid behind the wheel, Wally [asked Harvey if he would like something to drink. Wally had a variety of beverages to choose from. Harvey was quite surprised by the offer and the variety and chose a soft drink]. . . . Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.” As they were pulling away, Wally handed [Harvey] another laminated card. “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.” And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey ­preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts. “Tell me, Wally,” [Harvey] asked the driver, “have you always served customers like this?” Wally smiled into the rearview mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s onl

Receiving Revelation

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This is an exciting time to be at BYU. It is the beginning of a new semester, the women’s volleyball team is ranked number one, and no one of you is more than a week behind in your classes. If we keep those two things in the same order, we will be doing well this semester. It is also a time when there is much of significance happening in the world and in the Church. The inspired changes in priesthood quorums and the new emphasis on ministering announced at the April general conference provide ample evidence that revelation is thriving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the Lord is hastening His work.1 President Russell M. Nelson seemed to forecast that even greater things are in store for us when, at the Sunday morning session of conference, he declared: Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory.2 The fact that you are here on earth at this stage of its history is a compliment to you and your potential. As President Nelson recently observed: There is something undeniably special about this generation of youth. Your Heavenly Father must have great confidence in you to send you to earth at this time. You were born for greatness! The days ahead will be breathtaking. Father in Heaven must have known that you would be just the people He needs to do remarkable things in the latter days—the days leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.3 A Challenge and an Invitation But with that exciting celestial vote of confidence comes a prophetic challenge. Following his declaration that Christ will perform some of His mightiest works in our day, President Nelson added in general conference an equally thrilling warning and then later an invitation: In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.4 In that same Sunday morning talk, President Nelson underscored the need for us to receive revelation: If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.5 At the end of his remarks, he added this urgent invitation: My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. . . . Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.6 Learning That Leads to Inspiration, or Revelation This prophetic charge to increase our ability to learn by revelation is consistent with our recent university emp

Fulfilling the Destiny of Zion

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Welcome to another school year. It is such a joy to be with you again. Since we met in this capacity last year, there have been so many exciting developments that it would be impossible to list them all. Let me just share some examples of student achievements in this past year. More than 2,000 of our students—an all-time high—had a study-abroad experience this past year, participating in more than 200 programs in seventy-five countries. Truly the world is our campus. At the same time, inspiring learning opportunities were also provided to our students here in Provo. More than 1,100 BYU students registered for on-campus internships. These students worked in teams on projects for businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. Although the program is offered through the Marriott School of Business, 49 percent of the students who participated were not Marriott School students. On the athletic front, the men’s cross-country team finished third in the nation, and the women’s volleyball team reached the sweet-sixteen round of the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year. Individual students flourished here as well. To cite two of hundreds of examples, art student Julian Harper won the BLOOOM international young artist art competition, beating out more than 2,300 student artists from more than ninety countries. And Anne Thomas was selected as a Gates Scholar, one of only thirty-five undergraduates from across the world who will receive a full-tuition scholarship to Cambridge University under that program. Anne is the fifth BYU Gates Scholar. And so we begin a new year, determined to build on the successes of the past. As I have thought about what I could say to provide some motivating context for what lies ahead of us, my mind was drawn to the prophecy of President John Taylor that was highlighted in President Spencer W. Kimball’s second-century address: You will see the day that Zion will be as far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. You mark my words, and write them down, and see if they do not come to pass.1 This is, for me, a soul-stirring prophecy. Equally stirring is President Kimball’s brief but deepening elaboration: Surely we cannot refuse that rendezvous with history because so much of what is desperately needed by mankind is bound up in our being willing to contribute to the fulfillment of that prophecy.2 As I read this prophecy and President Kimball’s inspired and enthusiastic embrace of the rendezvous with history that it describes, I was struck by two things that had not stood out to me before in my many readings of President Taylor’s statement. First, I noticed that President Taylor indicated that we were to outpace the world with regard to “everything pertaining to learning of every kind.” The prophec

Mastered by Our Discipleship

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Two years ago this week President Worthen shared with the university community his vision for inspiring learning.1 This afternoon I hope to further describe some of the contours of that effort, particularly as it relates to experiential learning and student-centered research. I will also share my sense of why the whole inspiring learning project depends on “having [our] hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another”2—the theme of this university conference. Inspiring Learning As I considered my own inspiring learning efforts, my mind went back fifteen years. It may still be the case, but at that time, local junior high students were encouraged to spend one day shadowing a parent at work on what was called Groundhog Shadow Day. My son Danny and his friend decided to come shadow me. Frankly, watching me sit at a computer, answer emails, and write didn’t seem like a particularly thrilling day, save for the promise of a trip to the Wilk’s gaming center, but they would at least be able to see me teach a class. My son and his friend came and sat in the back of my torts class, which was held in an old computer lab. The computers had been removed, but they weren’t necessary anyway because all the law students had laptops and brought them to class. The lab did, however, retain its comfortable leather chairs. I taught my class, and I felt like it went quite well—­perhaps it was even inspiring. After class, my son Danny bounded to the front of the room with a joyful look on his face and said, “Dad, I want to go to law school.” For just a brief moment, I thought: “Wow. This is great. My son has seen me in action and is impressed. He thinks I am a fantastic teacher, and, even better, I have lit some spark for learning.” As these happy thoughts filled my head, he continued, “I want to go to law school because the students get to sit in comfy swivel chairs, and they can play solitaire on their laptops if they want.” Take pin and insert it into my balloon. Let’s start from the proposition that I have plenty of my own work to do on inspiring learning. One reason I chose to spend some time today on inspiring learning is that I sense there is some confusion about its content, particularly that inspiring learning is being conflated with experiential learning. I believe some of the confusion may come from the fact that President Worthen is working with donors to build a $120 million Inspiring Learning Endowment and that thus far the funding from that endowment has supported our efforts to expand experiential learning opportunities for our students. It is important to recognize, however, that the two are not the same. Experiential learning is a subset of inspiring learning. Inspiring learning is a much broader concept, encompassing all our efforts to achieve the mission and aims of the university. In his 2016 address on inspiri

“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

If You Want to Go Far, Go Together

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What a great day! It is an inspiring sight to see all of you here today to celebrate both an end and a beginning! I want you to know that blue is my favorite color, so I know I am in the right place today. I was also an August BYU grad, exactly thirty years ago. I am glad we can celebrate together today. As we have just been so beautifully taught by President Worthen, you have all entered and learned, and now it is time to go forth and serve. I say this to all of you and to each of you. Your future is radiant with promise and with opportunity, and the world needs 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 that it provides to connect us with others. I speak to you today on behalf of the BYU 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. They followed the example of their parents—all BYU graduates. Orval Hafen attended “the BYU” in the 1920s. He was part of BYU’s debate team. He ran for student body president, and he lost! But it wasn’t all bad. He met Ruth Clark, who, he wrote, “rather shied away from my attentions, but artful little rascal that she was, gave me just enough encouragement to keep me in misery” (Orval Hafen, Journal, vol. 1, 4; in possession of the author). So even though he lost the election at BYU, he won Ruth Clark’s heart, and they were married. My mom’s mom, Trudy Kartchner, grew up poor in Colonia Juárez, Mexico. With the encouragement of her high school religion teacher, she wrote a letter to BYU president Franklin S. Harris, who responded with a scholarship offer for tuition and a job to earn money for rent and food. She went to class for six months and then she worked for six months until finally she graduated. In her own words, “Being on the BYU campus was a time I enjoyed more than any other in my life. . . . I wouldn’t have missed that for anything” (“The Life Stories of Gertrude Skousen and Ray William Kartchner,” 43; in possession of the author). I hope each of you graduates have similar feelings about your time here. Trudy met her husband, Ray, at BYU. Ray attended BYU during the Depression. He worked his way through school by washing test tubes in the biology lab for twenty-five cents an hour. He got a degree in biology and was a member of BYU’s tennis team. 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. That was okay with me, and it solved one of my most pressing religious problems. She was, without a doubt, my very best BYU connection. But when we talk about our BYU connections, we aren’t only tal

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

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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