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Commencement

Center Your Journey in Christ

President and Sister Tanner, distinguished guests, graduates, spouses, family, and friends, it is a joy to be with you today on this very grand occasion. I honor and applaud your academic achievements.

Today is a well-deserved celebration of your hard work in finishing your degree, but it is in no way a coincidence that we refer to this day as a commencement. The word commencement actually means “a beginning or a start.” You graduates are among the rare few lucky enough to commence your journey at Christmas, a magical time when people of many faiths seek Christ and share gifts with others as a symbol of our Savior’s ultimate gift.

I would like to impart to you this morning two principles that have deeply blessed my own journey. They are directly tied to the heart of the Christmas season. They have provided me with joy, meaning, and purpose despite the many twists and bends of an uncertain road. I pray that perhaps they will be valuable tools on your path of becoming the men and women God sees in you.

First, like the Wise Men, I invite you to continue to make Jesus Christ the priority in your life. And next, like the shepherds, I invite you to share His glad tidings with compassion and joy.

SEEK CHRIST FIRST

The Wise Men were academics who had been studying the advent of the Messiah and knew the signs that pointed to His birth. When they identified the signs, they left their native country and traveled to Jerusalem, seeking Jesus Christ.[1] I love that once they saw the signs of His birth, they intentionally and immediately set out to find Him.[2]

Do we seek Christ with such determination? Like the Wise Men who understood prophecies, you have studied, as part of your education here at BYU–Hawaii, the life of the Savior and have learned of His “miracles among the children of men.”[3] You have seen some of those signs and miracles in your own life. As you go forward, I invite you to be determined to seek Christ first, every day.

I think we can all relate to an experience shared by President Stephen Owen, Young Men General President, in this most recent general conference. “Not long ago I woke up and prepared to study the scriptures, I picked up my smartphone … with the intention of opening the Gospel Library app. I … was just about to begin studying when I saw a half dozen notifications for text messages and emails … I thought, ‘I’ll quickly check those messages, and then I’ll get right to the scriptures.’ Well, two hours later I was still reading text messages, emails, news briefs, and social media posts. When I realized what time it was, I frantically rushed to get ready. … That morning I missed my scripture study, and consequently I didn’t get the spiritual nourishment I was hoping for.”[4]

Brother Owen started the day with every intention of studying the scriptures, but he was distracted by the tugs and pulls of the world. Mind you, his reading was probably made up of all good things, but it still shifted his priorities for the day. Such distraction can happen quickly and easily if we don’t pay attention.

Without our having real intent and determination, our plans to seek Christ can quickly be overcome by the dings, rings, and vibrations coming at us from every direction and device. Learn to cultivate those sweet, sweet moments when your Heavenly Father can teach you truths relevant to your current circumstances. I encourage you to start your day—every day, every day, every day—by intentionally carving out time to spend with the Lord. As you “keep this sacred appointment with exactness,”[5] your ability to hear the voice of the Lord will increase.

Earlier this year, I met Hope, a 17-year-old young woman who was living in a group home in northern Utah. One of Hope’s greatest desires was to hear the voice of the Lord, something she had not, thus far, been able to identify. We sat together and began reading the first verses in the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. I invited her to highlight the words that spoke to her and promised her that, in so doing, she would hear the voice of the Lord speak to her. That night Hope read ten chapters in the Book of Mormon, and her profound response was shared with me in a few short and stirring words: “Tell Sister Cordon I heard the voice of the Lord!”

President Russell M. Nelson asked and answered a question similar to Hope’s in his first general conference as prophet: “Does God really want to speak to you? Yes!”[6] He then extended an invitation that I hope we have all taken to heart: “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation. … There is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know.”[7]

The Lord is interested in everything you are interested in, everything that matters to you. Seeking Christ means inviting Him to be a part of all you do and then relying on Him to help you do it.

Here’s just one story to illustrate His interest. In 1987, my husband and I had just experienced the thrill of graduating with our bachelor’s degrees. We were off to California, where Derek would start an MBA program. We needed a stable income to support us over the next two years, and we needed it now. We had exhausted our resources when, finally, a friend of a friend gave us a name and a phone number.

That name ended up being a Church member who was the president of an up-and-coming tech company. I called the number, assuming the person providing the number surely would have let the president know I was seeking an interview. A nice administrative assistant answered, and I explained who I was and asked about my interview time. She informed me, “You are not on the interview list” and suggested I call back tomorrow.

That next morning, on my knees I pleaded with the Lord to know what to do. An answer came into my heart: be patient and courageous. That was not quite the level of detailed instructions I was hoping for. I was left to act on courage, and I called the president’s office. Once again, I was told my name was not on the list.

Now I was stumped. The following morning, I prayed again to my Heavenly Father, and again I was impressed: be patient and courageous. The only thing I could think of that required courage was calling the office again, and so I did. By day four, the nice administrative assistant’s voice had lost some of its warmth: “Bonnie Cordon, your name is not on his interview list.” Continuing the daily pattern, I knelt in prayer. The same thought came to me: be patient and courageous. So courageously I called the number again and again.

By week three, the daily conversation went something like this:

“Hello, Michelle!”

“Bonnie! How are you doing?”

“I’m doing just fine. Just calling to see if my name is on that interview list yet!”

“I’ve got the list right here, and it looks like it’s not on there yet.”

“All right then, I’ll talk to you tomorrow! Have a good day!”

At the end of week three, I heard the anticipated words: “Bonnie, you are on the list.”

My résumé didn’t have an ounce of qualifications required for jobs this company had to offer. The president took pity on a young, underqualified mother and personally walked me to three different branches of the company, each of which extended a job offer that very day. Oh, how grateful I was for the constant encouragement I received from my daily pleadings.

My friends, seek Christ first.

I testify that the Lord is interested in every aspect of your life. Please invite Him in. Please continue to seek His direction. As you do, you will realize the promise spoken of in Helaman 3: “They did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”[8]

As you commence this new part of your journey, will you decide that in your next phase of serving the Lord, you will continue to make time every single morning to commune with God? Will you make this a non-negotiable? You will need that sacred, personal and quiet time on your knees, in the scriptures so your Father in Heaven can speak directly to you and you can Hear Him. Continue to become more familiar with the Holy Ghost. I testify that if His voice is the first and strongest in your heart, you’ll be able to discern the truth in all the rest. He will continue to give you the guidance you need to achieve the righteous desires of your heart.

SHARE THE GOOD TIDINGS

Second, we should emulate the shepherds, who shared “good tidings of great joy … to all people.”[9] The shepherds, like the Wise Men, sought the Savior. But the scriptures go on to tell us that the shepherds became witnesses of Christ. They saw the “babe lying in a manger … [and] made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”[10]

The shepherds did not act out of pure obligation or duty, but out of the joy of their hearts and compassion in their souls. From them we can see the need to come and see, then go and do.

As you commence on this next phase of your Christ-centered journey, I hope you will not only reach up and seek Christ, but I hope you will reach out to those the Lord puts in your path to serve, lift, and bless as He would.

Consider with me the parable of the good Samaritan. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves,”[11] who stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead.

“A certain priest … when he saw him, … passed by on the other side.

“And likewise a Levite … came and looked on him, and passed by on the otherside.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.”[12]

So what was the difference? All three walked that road, and all three noticed the man. One saw, another looked, and another had compassion. I invite you to not only see and look but to go forth and serve with compassion

Let me share an example told by a sister who was blessed by a current-day good Samaritan: “Last March my husband of 20 years moved out, which meant my children would be splitting time between us. I was devastated. It also meant that every other Sunday I would be sitting in a pew by myself. …

“That first Sunday I walked in praying no one would speak to me. I was barely holding it together. I looked terrible and tears were on the brink. I sat in my normal spot—center section, right side, about six rows from the front. One of the young women in our ward, who always sits with her family on the second row, turned and looked at me. I pretended to smile (it was pathetic). She smiled back. I could see the concern in her face. I silently pleaded that she wouldn’t come talk to me. I had nothing good to say and knew I would cry if she asked how I was. I looked back down at my lap and avoided eye contact.

“During the next hour I noticed her looking back at me occasionally, and then as soon as the meeting ended she made a beeline for me. ‘Hi Rozlyn,’ I muttered. She wrapped me in her arms and said, ‘Sister Smith, I can tell that today is a bad day for you. I am so sorry. I love you.’ The tears came and I managed to smile at her. She hugged me again and then left. ‘Deep breath. Hopefully no one else talks to me,’ I thought.

“Cue the next Sunday, and the next. That sweet 16-year-old lady found me every Sunday (and continues to). Every single Sunday I could count on a hug and a ‘How are you, Sister Smith?’ from Rozlyn. And you know what? It made a difference about how I felt about coming to church. The truth is I started to rely on those hugs. Someone noticed me and knew I was there. Someone cared.”[13] [End quote.]

My hope is that we will witness of Christ in both our words and our kind actions of compassion towards others. I believe compassion is kindness with a vision—a vision of turning people to Christ so they may have full access to His atoning sacrifice. I testify that it is the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, that constitutes the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”[14] It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that blesses us with heaven’s relief.

And so, at this, your Christmas commencement of the next important phase of your journey, let us recap. I invite you to be intentional in seeking Christ first. Let the Lord’s voice be the first sound you hear each day. At times, the wisdom of the world will be at odds with God’s message, but if you have heard Him first, then you will recognize and be able to discern the truth.

I invite you further to reach out and be compassionately aware of people. Do it passionately! Like the Savior Himself, you can go “about doing good.”[15] In serving them, we will feel of His love for them—and for ourselves!

I testify that our Savior lives. I join with you in celebrating not only His birth but His life and His mission. As we seek Him and serve Him, He will sustain us and guide our every step on our journey back to our heavenly home. I congratulate you on the step you are taking today.

[1] See Matthew 2:1–2.

[2] See Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Seeking Christ at Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2017.

[3] Mormon 9:20.

[4] Stephen W. Owen, “Be Faithful, Not Faithless,” Ensign, Nov. 2019.

[5] Michelle Craig, “Spiritual Capacity,” Ensign, Nov. 2019; see also Russell M. Nelson, “Becoming Exemplary Latter-day Saints,” Ensign, Nov. 2018.

[6] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018.

[7] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives.”

[8] Helaman 3:35.

[9] Luke 2:10.

[10] Luke 2:16–17.

[11] Luke 10:30.

[12] Luke 10:31–33.

[13] Personal correspondence.

[14] Luke 2:10.

[15] Acts 10:38.