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Elder Holland tells BYU graduates to 'Get out there and ... be a ray of light'

At Brigham Young University's April 26 commencement exercises, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland touched on a pair of the university's well-known mottos in his keynote address, citing the first when he acknowledged that correcting all of the world's ills may seem to be a daunting task.

"Go out there and be undaunted,” said Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve in his charge to the 6,087 BYU graduates.

“Go out there and light a candle. Be a ray of light. Be your best self and let your character shine. Cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ and live it. The world needs you and surely your Father in Heaven needs you if His blessed purposes for His children are to prevail. You have 'entered to learn.' Now 'go forth to serve' and strengthen.”

Speaking to a capacity crowd in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus, Elder Holland addressed 6,087 BYU graduates earning 6,297 degrees — 5,393 bachelor's degrees, 726 master's degrees and 178 doctorate degrees.

Notably, this year marks the first time more female graduates have served a Church mission — 52 percent — than have not.

Mentioning his recent return from a global tour accompanying President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Holland joked about his campus arrival.

"A funny thing happened on the way to getting here," said Elder Holland. "I left early to make sure I wasn't late, I started out two weeks ago. And boy, it is a good thing I did. I'm not sure where I made the wrong turn, but the next thing I knew I was seeing road signs that said, 'Jerusalem' and 'Nairobi' and 'Bangalore' and 'Hong Kong.' It has taken me all I could do to get here on time."

The quip aligns with the second popular motto, both of which adorn BYU's main entrance: "The world is our campus."

In addition to Elder Holland's keynote address, BYU President Kevin J Worthen spoke and conducted the service. Former Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt received an honorary doctorate degree.

And no one waited longer to earn a degree than 80-year-old mathematics major Fred Paulson, an acheivement 63 years in the making.

“I first started at BYU in 1955,” he said. “I attended for two years before serving a mission, and when I returned home I got married and we started a family. I have nine children, 37 grandchildren and in a month I’ll have 6 great-grandchildren.”

Admitting he had “dabbled at it here and there,” Paulson's return to full-time education came after retiring from jobs in the military and as an air traffic controller, serving multiple missions and having first helped his wife return to college and finish her degree from BYU.

He started three years ago, first auditing community college classes "to refresh my knowledge,” said Paulson, who with 120 credits already under his belt traveled from Taylorsville, Utah, to Provo three times a week.

“I wanted to finish that dream I always had," he adding, that knowledge "is extremely important. It is the only thing I can take with me.”

Elder Holland, who served as the ninth president of BYU, offered two pieces of advice to graduates.

“The first piece of advice is a cautionary one,” he said. “It comes from the man who rose in his time to become the most powerful layman in the entire British kingdom of his day, the masterful Thomas Wolsey, second only to the legendary Henry VIII himself in his influence over the king’s realm.”

Elder Holland shared Wolsey’s story as a warning against “maneuvering the ladder of success so wantonly that you discover in the end you had it leaning against the wrong wall.”

Wolsey’s driving ambition and immense talent, despite being the son of an uneducated butcher, brought him recognition and power.

"Quickly enough he was the controlling figure in all matters of state and every political move made by his monarch," Elder Holland said. "He loved display and wealth. He lived in royal splendor and reveled in royal power."

Yet, just as quickly as he rose in power, Wolsey's fatal fall was just as sudden when he was unable to get Rome's approval for the king to get a divorce from his wife, Catherine, so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

"What a tragic end to such a gifted beginning," Elder Holland said. "What a pathetic farewell to a life that held such promise. And where did it go wrong? It went wrong when Wolsey's public ambition became more important than his personal integrity."

Recognizing that in the world today "almost nothing seems impossible," Elder Holland encouraged graduates to "be your best self and let your character shine," while bridling ambitions so they don't become like Wolsey.

Elder Holland’s second piece of advice: in a world with challenges and difficulties, troubles never need to be permanent nor fatal.

“In the days and years ahead, you may suffer some discouragement and disappointment,” he said. “On occasion you may feel genuine despair, either for yourself or your children or the plight and conditions of others. You may even make a personal mistake or two — serious mistakes, perhaps, though I hope not — and you may worry that any chance to be happy and secure in life has eluded you forever.

"When such times come, I ask you to remember this: This is a Church of happy endings. Troubles never need to be permanent nor fatal. Darkness always yields to light. The sun always rises. Faith, hope and charity will always triumph in the end. Furthermore, they will triumph all along the way."

Leavitt, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and 14th Governor of Utah, received an honorary doctorate of public service. In his brief remarks, Leavitt shared "the economics of goodness."

"It is a simple but powerful idea," he said. "Every nation or state has economic assets that produce wealth. It may be minerals, it may be a seaport, it may be a favorable climate. But there is a universal asset of immense value, inherent in any community if we use it. That power is simply the inclination of its citizens to do the right thing, voluntarily."

He focused on three lessons: First, humor and humility are "more endearing that hubris."

Second, "the economics of goodness applies to individuals as well as nations. People who work hard, those that are honest and reliable, have a better chance at success than those who don't."

And third, "Service is the source of our self-esteem. It is also the source of satisfaction and a source of healing."

"Therefore, go," Leavitt said. "Go humbly to serve. Work hard, be honest. Be reliable. I testify to you that success will be yours."

President Worthen encouraged grads, as they make career and other important decisions in life, to aspire to a place with no pride or focus on riches.

"I can predict with a high degree of certainty that there will be many times in your post-graduate life when you will face decisions that will ultimately be determined by whether you are motivated by pride and riches on the one hand, or whether you are moved to act consistent with truths that resonate 'in your heart and in your mind' on the other," President Worthen said. "My simple promise to you is that if you choose the latter over the former, your life will be more joyful, more fulfilling and more eternally productive."

Other speakers included BYU Alumni Association president Jonathan O. Hafen and graduate Jared Blanchard. The BYU Concert Choir performed "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel."