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BYU Speeches

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

“The Ultimate Triumph of Truth”

Good morning, Elder Kearon, President Worthen, those from the university administration, members of the board of trustees, faculty, honored guests, and, of course—the reason why we are all here—the class of 2019. First and foremost I would like to congratulate you for your hard work and dedication. Every one of us has shown through wholehearted devotion to our learning and studies that we deserve to be sitting here right now. Many of us have spent more hours in the library than in our own homes, pulled more all-nighters than we would like to admit, and, if you are like me, lived off vending-machine pretzels for four years. There is no other group more deserving to be here right now, and it is an honor to represent you. Without question, this is one of the most diverse groups of students to ever walk across the BYU stage. Here at BYU there are 128 languages spoken on campus, there are more than a hundred countries represented, and the number of international students continues to increase. We come from a diversity of backgrounds, and each one of us testifies to the complexity of our world and the need for interdisciplinary thinkers. In less than a week it will be exactly the 500th anniversary of the death of the quintessential Renaissance man, one of the greatest interdisciplinary thinkers of all time: Leonardo da Vinci. Born the illegitimate son of Ser Piero in the Italian city of Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci would go on to create the two most iconic paintings in history—the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper—and produce some of the earliest diagrams of human physiology in intoxicating detail. He also created the first blueprints of a helicopter, tank, parachute, diving suit, submarine, robotic knight, and revolving bridge. He did all this before the world discovered plumbing. What separates Leonardo da Vinci from other great minds is his complete disregard for the distinction between disciplines, which we can see in this formula inspired by his notebooks: Leonardo da Vinci’s Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind 1. Study the science of art. 2. Study the art of science. 3. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. 4. Realize that everything connects to everything else.1 When I was young, much like da Vinci, I ­identified more as an artist than as a scientist. I can remember sketching the intricate vasculature of plants and copying the textures of stones and feathers behind my childhood home. That might sound impressive for a kid, but, to be honest, I mostly just drew Pokémon. I am a far cry from the next da Vinci, but, as I have matured, my appreciation for Leonardo’s vision has grown. There is no aspect of my research that hasn’t been affected by the arts. Whether I am rendering models of organic compounds, simulating peptides folding in real time, or staining human tumors, I have bee

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. 1. How Important Is Love? The first que

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

“That They Might Have Joy”

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”

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

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

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”

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

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

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