“Develop your legacy intentionally. Determine right now how you will measure your life when it is over, and then choose accordingly,” Elder Bradley D. Foster, General Authority Seventy, told graduates of Brigham Young University during commencement exercises on April 27.
“You wont always be able to choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you handle what happens to you,” Elder Foster said.
Elder Foster addressed 4,335 graduates from 67 countries, three territories and 50 U.S. states.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided at the event, during which 3,609 were awarded bachelor’s degrees, 585 master’s degrees and 141 doctoral degrees. BYU President Kevin J Worthen conducted and shared brief remarks. Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, the executive chairman of the AMAR Foundation, received an honorary doctorate.
Known for her charity and humanitarian work across the Middle East and career in politics in England, Baroness Nicholson was recognized by the university and honored with a Doctor of International Leadership and Humanitarian Service.
After accepting the honor, Baroness Nicholson shared a bit of her story and how she became partners with the LDS Church's welfare organization. The partnership started with a single friendship and has grown into a working relationship built on common interests and goals.
“I stand humbled to become one of your newest alumni at one of the most prestigious universities,” she said.
Sharing a brief sketch of some of the humanitarian projects she has been a part of over her career, she encouraged listeners do what they can to make a difference in the lives of other people who need help around the world.
Building professions is key to that work, she said.
"To have intellectual strength we must accompany that with action."
The Baroness invited listeners to count on her "as one of you" and encouraged them to call on her, ask questions and to build upon the common heritage of shared values and the "pursuit of freedom for all humanity."
"I remind us all that saving just one life ... is worth all the effort we can put in," she said.
In his keynote address, Elder Foster shared with graduates “a few secrets of life” to remember as they start the next chapter in their life.
“God has given us two things in life: time and the opportunity to choose what you do with it,” he said. “This is your turn on earth. [I]t is up to us to use it.”
Part of living in “our days” means individuals will face opposition and life wasn’t designed to be easy, the leader taught.
“Throughout your life all of you will experience both success and failure,” he said. “Don’t be too anxious for the applause for the success, or the pity for the failure. Remember, the common denominator in both success and failure is that neither of these conditions is permanent.”
An important part of this life is understanding one’s relation to God and to others. “When you really understand this, you will act differently, and will treat others differently.”
Sharing a story about children with special needs participating in a track and field meet, Elder Foster told of how physically and mentally challenged children taught what it means to lift others around them.
Intended to be a way to build self-esteem, a race was planned for a group of nine children. Not long after the race began, one of the racers fell down and hurt his knee. As the other racers heard him cry, they stopped, turned around and went back and gathered around the hurt boy.
“One little girl with Down Syndrome kissed him on the head and said, ‘Now that will make it better,’” Elder Foster recalled. “Together they lifted him up, joined arms, and walked to the finish line together.”
As the athletes walked to the finish line together, their parents stood and cheered for a long time.
“The parents thought self-esteem would come from winning, but they learned that self-esteem comes from doing esteemable things every day,” Elder Foster said.
Recognizing it can be a good thing to be competitive and successful, Elder Foster warned about making “owning things” a top priority.
“Never love anything that can’t love you back,” he said. “Remember that a distraction doesn’t have to be evil to be effective. The world would have you believe that success is all about ‘fame and fortune. But as we’ve all heard before, money doesn’t buy happiness, it only makes you wealthy. Remember, happiness is not measured in zeros, but in relationships. Life is not about accumulation. Life is about contribution.”
Rather than being scared of not becoming a person of fame or fortune, Elder Foster said a person should be weary of not becoming the person he or she is supposed to become while they are here on earth.
“The Lord knows who you are. He knows your circumstances. He will help you. He will bless you as you bless others. As inscribed on the entrance of this university, ‘Enter to learn’ which you’ve done, now, ‘Go forth to serve.’”
During his remarks, President Worthen shared with graduates the unlikely counsel to “be awful.”
“Before you dismiss my advice as a completely inappropriate effort to be unique rather than helpful, let me explain what I mean by that charge,” he said. “Linguists know well that the meaning of words can change dramatically over time. One form of change is what is called pejoration. Pejoration is the process by which a word with a positive or neutral meaning acquires negative connotations over time.
“Centuries ago, ‘awful’ had a very positive connotation. Its original meaning was ‘awe-inspiring,’ ‘worthy of respect’ and ‘profoundly respectful or reverential.’”
Over time, the meaning changed to mean something negative.
“My admonition is that you ‘be awful’ in its original, unpejorated sense, that you always be aware of things that are awe-inspiring,” he said. “I am urging you to be full of awe, if you will.”
Being ‘awful’ has its rewards, President Worthen taught. “It makes life more full, more enjoyable and more productive. Most importantly, experiencing awe can help us keep things in perspective.”
President Worthen encouraged grads to be “child-like,” experiencing awe more fully and more often than adults.
“Unfortunately, increased knowledge can sometimes diminish our ability to experience awe,” he said.
He offered a charge — to not let education diminish a person’s willingness to experience awe “for there is so much in the world around us that can cause us to be full of awe.”
The second part of his charge comes as a three-word admonition: “Don’t pejorate; ameliorate.”
“Just as words can pejorate — and acquire a more negative meaning over time, they can also acquire a more positive meaning,” he said. “Linguists call this amelioration.
“My hope is that those who encounter you and learn that you are a graduate of Brigham Young University will think better of BYU because they now you; that the term BYU will ameliorate — not pejorate — as a result of what you do and who you are.”
Other speakers at the event included Amy Fennegan, president of the alumni chapter; graduate Thomas James Stone. Earlier in the day the Army ROTC commissioned six cadets and the Air Force ROTC commissioned 16 cadets.
[email protected] @marianne_holman