"May you ever look backward with pride and look forward with hope," President Thomas S. Monson told graduating students at Brigham Young University Aug. 15.
Dressed in the robes of academia, President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy and president of BYU led the graduates on their processional march into the Marriott Center. There the university awarded 2,179 bachelor's degrees, 350 master's degrees, 34 doctorates and three associate degrees. Ceremonies continued Friday, Aug. 16, with college convocations.Elder Perry conducted the ceremonies in the Marriott Center Aug. 15. Among Church leaders in attendance were Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve and Commissioner of Church Education; Elder Loren C. Dunn and Elder Jack H Goaslind, both of the Seventy; Relief Society General Pres. Elaine L. Jack; Young Women General Pres. Janette Hales Beckham; and Primary General Pres. Patricia P. Pinegar.
As the closing speaker at commencement exercises, President Monson reminded the graduates that their training, experience and knowledge are tools to be skillfully used. "They have been self-acquired," he said. "Your conscience, your love, your faith are delicate and precious instruments to guide your destiny. They have been God-given.
"One of the fundamental objectives of your university life will have been realized if you have entered to learn and now go forth to serve - to serve God and to serve your fellowmen, to be an example of one who loves the Lord with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself."
President Monson gave four succinct points of advice:
- You will meet sin; shun it.
- You inherit freedom; protect it.
- You have a testimony; share it.
- You know the truth; live it.
President Monson cautioned the graduates to avoid "the twin snares of gold and silver."
"Scripture tells us that money is not the root of all evil - love of money is," President Monson said.
He quoted Dr. Bernadine Healy, who said: " `As a physician who has been deeply privileged to share the most profound moments of people's lives, including their final moments, let me tell you a secret. People facing death don't think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated. At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you. The circle of love is everything and is a good measure of a past life. It is the gift of greatest worth.' "
President Monson referred to the Savior's teaching, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:40)
President Monson added: "We cannot be careless in our reach. Lives of others may depend on us. You might sometimes be tempted to say, `Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the world or the work that dramatically?' " In answer, he told of Elgin Staples who, as a young man, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. The sailor was swept over the side of his ship, but he survived, thanks to a life belt that proved, on later examination, to have been inspected, packed and stamped back home in Akron, Ohio, by his own mother who was working on a war-time production line. As an aside, President Monson said that Elgin Staples is now a member of the Church, having been baptized in 1982.
"I am confident he expressed his thanks to his mother and to his Heavenly Father for his very life," President Monson said. "Graduates, think to thank. In these words you have the finest capsule course for happiness. One of the problems of this troubled world in which we live is that people think more of getting than of giving, of receiving and not even stopping to express thanks for that which is received."
Elder Bateman told the commencement assembly that happiness is not found in possessions but in relationships and in obedience to truth.
"Family relationships, a person's closeness to God and ties with close friends determine a fullness of joy," the university president said.
Elder Bateman told the graduates that as they leave the university, there are three illusions and corresponding realities, the latter of which will aid them in their search for success and happiness.
The first illusion, he said, centers on rights, while the reality is reflected in responsibility.
"It is an illusion to believe that life's purposes are fulfilled by forcing society to grant unearned rights," Elder Bateman said. "In contrast, success and happiness are the by-products of fulfilling one's responsibility, of learning to bridle one's passions and in giving service to others. Life's rewards and opportunities are the result of effort and not of rights."
The second illusion, he continued, is that happiness is determined by one's possessions. "From personal experience, the richest people on this earth are seldom the happiest . . . .
"True freedom is not found in the world's riches or in the approximate truths of mankind. The reality is that freedom comes in obedience to the light and truth dispensed by God directly or, more commonly, by His prophets."
Elder Bateman told the graduates that the third illusion is that they can accomplish things without the help of others.
"Always be grateful to parents, spouses, children, teachers and others who have paid a price to assist you. Be generous in your recognition and praise of them," he said. "Moreover, there is another source of help to whom you must always express thanks. That is your Father in Heaven . . . . On rare occasions the heavens may open in a manner that will indelibly mark God's personal interest in you and His succor in your behalf."
After his remarks, Elder Bateman awarded the Presidential Citation to Edwin S. Hinckley, an early BYU educator who died in 1929.
George Marion Hinckley, the sole surviving child of Edwin Smith Hinckley accepted the citation.
Edwin Smith Hinckley was born in Cove Fort, Utah, in 1868. In his teens he left the frontier to study at Brigham Young Academy. After graduating with a teaching degree, he enrolled in the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1895. Edwin then heeded the call of Church authorities to return to Provo to teach at his alma mater. He embarked on a long tenure of service as teacher and administrator.
After his death Nov. 15, 1929, his children established scholarships at Utah State University, Weber State University, University of Utah and BYU. More than 700 students have obtained an education at BYU as recipients of the prestigious Hinckley scholarship.
"The Hinckleys have generously given of substance to help others. In turn, when in a position to do so, Hinckley scholars are encouraged to give back to the scholarship fund to extend similar benefits to future students," said Elder Bateman. "Replenishment is a popular topic at BYU today largely due to the vision and example of the Hinckley family."
Honorary doctorates were bestowed on two individuals. The first, Leslie Norris, a distinguished poet, short story writer, literary scholar and translator, has lived a life of "crossing borders, of making new homes for himself and of making peace, of learning new creative skills and gaining new perspectives," Elder Bateman said. "He thus exemplifies the finest qualities that BYU stands for."
Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, in 1921 Professor Norris published his first books of poetry in 1944 and 1946. After publishing three distinguished books of poetry in the late 1960s, he was invited to be the Visiting Poet at the University of Washington, beginning a series of visits to America that led to his becoming part of the BYU faculty in 1983, first as Visiting Poet and then as Humanities Professor of Creative Writing and Poet in Residence.
During the graduation ceremony, Professor Norris read three of his poems.
The second honorary doctorate was presented to Alvin Plantinga, whose vision of inter-Christian unity has been beneficial for the LDS community, said Elder Bateman.
Currently a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Professor Plantinga has given lectures at conferences and campuses in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Professor Plantinga has been a primary force in the rebirth and flowering of Christian philosophy in America and is recognized as one of today's most important philosophers of religion, said Elder Bateman.
Professor Plantinga explained to students during his graduation address why he feels it is important to have schools such as BYU and Notre Dame, whose "religious role and purpose go beyond this world."
"Why should anyone want a Mormon university, or a Catholic university or a Protestant university?" he questioned. "It is good to have opportunities for worship easily available on campus; to be able to take courses in religion and theology, to have Christian counseling available for those who need it and many other similar benefits."
But, he continued, these benefits do not go to the heart of the matter. He said the real need for Christian universities is to produce Christian scholarship. "The Christian academic's most important assignment is really that of serving the Christian community, not the rest of the academic world; but then the whole Christian community must endorse, support, pray for and pay for this crucial job of the Christian university."
Professor Plantinga encouraged graduates to "endorse this undertaking."
"Give thanks to the Lord for what this university, BYU, has been and is; support it in accomplishing this task of Christian scholarship; insist that it carry out the task with zeal, patience, discernment and deep Christian commitment," he concluded. "Mormons are known the world over for industry, thrift, sobriety, godliness, plain living and high thinking. Is it too much to hope that this great Mormon university will be similarly known for courageous and deep and powerful scholarship?"