I am very grateful to be here with you in Laie at this commencement for Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Thank you so much for your warm welcome and for your great spirits. It is humbling to stand in this place and contemplate the history of this school. I think of the interest prophets of this Church have had in this institution and the prophetic promises that are attached to it.
In preparation for this message, I asked those who were graduating fill out a survey. About one fifth of you responded giving me some feedback about your graduation experience. I asked for your feedback, not because I didn't know what to talk about, but because I wanted to learn about you. Your responses were very interesting, and what you wrote was insightful and thoughtful.
Your questions suggested that you are looking to the future. Some of you are wondering about the economy and the future of the job market in the world. Others asked about balancing responsibilities and handling change in your lives. Some of you had thoughts about marriage and family. You want help knowing how to choose an eternal companion and advice on how to raise children in this world. One person emphatically asked me to try to give a talk that said nothing about marriage. I guess I already mentioned marriage, so I apologize to you, whoever you are. Others of you had questions that were related to your faith, trusting in the Lord, receiving personal revelation, and receiving assurance and peace. In your survey, you indicated that your next steps after graduation would include missions, marriage, fatherhood and motherhood, careers and work, graduate school, time with family, and just relaxing.
You have now achieved this great goal and have come to the end of a tremendous amount of work. When you came here you had to make a new beginning. It is interesting that after all the classes you have attended, all of the homework assignments, all of the tests, all of the activities, Church service, friendships, and learning experiences, you have not been able to eliminate your concerns for the future. You are now worried about different things. You hope you can find a job in a difficult economy; many are concerned about finding a spouse when you return home. Some are still trying to change bad habits you arrived here with. There seems to be some loneliness, uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety about what comes next. Perhaps we have forgotten all the help we are given day by day just to do what we need to do.
Last July, Sister Margaret Wheelwright spoke in a devotional here on your campus about remembering. She spoke specifically about remembering that the Lord is there and is helping you in your life. That is a very important thing to remember at this point in your lives.
As I have been remembering how the Lord has helped me, I have been reminded of my own experiences with higher education and what I learned from that experience and what I need to remember about that time in my life.
My university experience actually started before I was born when my parents set a goal on their honeymoon that all their children would graduate from a university. At that time, they also decided that they would not pay for our education but that they would teach us the gospel; they would instill in us the goal to achieve an education and teach us how to work to make that possible. That goal became part of our family culture. My parents had no idea that their family would grow to include 10 children. The goal never changed but the work increased over the years as we all went to the university and some of our family members also continued on to achieve advanced degrees.
Our family was actually in the university business for over 25 years. It was easier for some of us than others but we all helped each other and made it happen. For instance, my oldest sister had lost most of her hearing when she was two. It took her seven years to get her bachelor's degree. She would sit on the front row of her classes reading the lips of the teacher and would copy notes from another student after class. She needed a lot of help and support from the rest of us, but she did well. She still teaches profoundly handicapped children, who she was trained to teach, and she has been successful.
I was told by my high school counselor that my college entrance scores were too low to qualify for entrance at a college or university and that I should try to find a job I could be happy with. I knew that some of my poor scores were due to my parents moving around, to changing schools, and also to my long illness as a child. But, I had a family goal to achieve and, against my counselor's advice, I determined to try. I had worked hard to save some money, but I still didn't have enough to get started. So I sewed dresses for my sister, who was leaving to serve a mission, and she gave me what was left in her savings account after paying for her mission expenses.
I began my studies at Dixie College in St. George, Utah, where my parents often visited for work. I lived with my cousins and high school friends. Dixie was a great place for me. It was much like BYU-Hawaii in the way it felt. It had been started by faithful Latter-day pioneers and was infused with the spirit of sacrifice. It was a smaller community, the students knew each other, the teachers counseled and nurtured the students, and we had a lot of opportunities to serve and participate in leadership and extra-curricular activities. I loved my Dixie experience. I grew and flourished there.
After my first year at Dixie, I met my future husband at a young single adult class during the summer break. When we decided to get married that coming December, I accelerated my studies and took some tests to qualify for early graduation.
After our marriage, I went to BYU in Provo, where my husband was also in school. We paid our tuition the week after we got married and had only three dollars to carry us over to the next paycheck a month later. We each worked four to eight hours a day, took a full load of classes, and lived with our grandpa so we wouldn't have to pay rent. We were poor, but we were happy, and we both knew how to work hard. We served in our ward and tried to meet our challenges with faith.
Despite all of our hard work, we had to decide that I would drop out of school after that first semester and work full time to help my husband finish. I didn't know that it would be eight years before I would be able to graduate from BYU. I tried to always work on a home-study course but it was a slow process.
One day, several years after I had stopped attending BYU, the same sister who had given me her savings account offered to take care of our two young children if I wanted to return to BYU full time. Brother Beck, my husband, was enthusiastic about me going back to school. In those days, before computers, he offered to do all he could to help me and type up every paper I had to write. After so much time out of school, I had to take some courses over, and it seemed like a huge mountain to climb. But I enrolled full time at BYU again. I usually drove my younger siblings to Provo, and my mother packed me a lunch every day. She always made a bologna sandwich and I always ate it. I ate my last bologna sandwich the last day I went to BYU. I didn't dare tell mother I didn't like bologna because I knew she'd fix something else and I was always grateful she took care of me. After that first semester and 16 weeks later, I had completed 16 credit hours. It had been challenging, but the Lord had blessed us to manage it all. I took a break the next semester, and then with a deep breath we started in again. When I finally graduated, my husband, my parents, my sister the babysitter, our five-year-old daughter, and our three-year-old son were there to celebrate with me.
During the time I went to school, we also built a new home and I served five years as the ward Primary president. That was challenging but we learned many lessons. At midterm time of my last semester, I nearly quit. Our ward had just been divided and I had lost both of my counselors and 15 Primary teachers. Our three-year-old son got double ear infections and pneumonia, and I went without sleep and missed classes for about a week to take care of him. One morning when I had finally slept for two hours, the alarm rang for me to get up and go back to school. I turned it off and cried into my pillow. My husband nudged me and told me to get up, but I told him I wasn't going to school. I was too tired and I was quitting. He sat right up in bed and said, "You are not quitting! I have worked too hard for you to quit now. Just get ready and go!" Well, with that kind of encouragement I had new energy and I went. Our son got better, the weekend came, and I caught up on sleep. The Primary in our ward got reorganized, and eight weeks later I took my last final. When I walked out of that test, there was a light rain falling over the campus, and the rain on my face hid the tears on my cheeks. I felt as if the heavens were weeping with me in celebration.
Now why did I tell you that long story? I imagine that many of you can relate to the experience I had and have many to equal or surpass it. If you have approached your time at BYU-Hawaii seriously, you have had some similar experiences.
Well, let's review what we learn from our experiences by reviewing what I learned from my experience. I learned many things. I learned how to discipline myself, how to set goals and achieve them, how to study and think better, how to manage my time better, how to set priorities, and how to take tests. I also learned the importance of receiving help when I needed it, working on a goal with others, not giving up, and celebrating small achievements. My husband and I learned to work together in amazing ways. We learned to counsel together better and pray together better. We improved in our ability to seek the Lord's help and listen to what He was telling us to do. We knew this was a goal the Lord approved of so we kept going. I learned many things that helped prepare me for my current responsibilities. The Lord was preparing me. It didn't really matter what I chose to study. It was the process that taught us so much. I learned that graduation was not the end of our challenging experiences. Some experiences that came later were even more challenging than the time we spent in school. In fact, look at this picture of my graduation day. In this picture you can see me, President Thomas S. Monson (who was then an apostle), and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who was not yet an apostle, but the president of BYU. Also in the background you can see Sister Barbara B. Smith, who was general Relief Society president. Not one of us knew that in that picture we had a future prophet, apostle, and general Relief Society president.
So, now you are at the end of this great goal. You may think that now you have finished at BYU-Hawaii, you can finally get on with life. I have a secret to share with you. You have been in the middle of life all the time you have been here and you will continue to live life after you leave here. You are graduating at a time when the economy is depressed. That is okay. That is part of your life and experience. The world has always experienced up times and down times and you will feel the impact of those ups and downs throughout your life. It is as important to focus on what you are learning and enjoying during this experience as it is to enjoy easier times which will come. Your next step is to live life and enjoy it and learn from it.
Let's review what I hope you have learned from this message and from your experience at BYU-Hawaii. One, the Lord has a plan. He has a plan for this world and He has a plan for you. You signed up for this plan when you fought on the side of the Savior in the war in heaven. You wanted to come to this earth and have this experience. That should give you great confidence.
Two, because you are here, because you are having this experience, you have responsibilities in that plan. One of those responsibilities has been to get your education. The most important responsibility you will fulfill will be to form an eternal family and teach and prepare that family for eternal life. Some of you have already started that and some are preparing to do that. You should feel comfortable to go ahead and get married, bear children, teach them the gospel, and take care of them. That is what you are supposed to do. That is the plan. If it becomes difficult to find a worthy spouse, you should never abandon the plan of the Lord, but press forward with a perfect brightness of hope in His promises.
Three, because our Savior, Jesus Christ, paid the price through His atoning sacrifice, you can learn from and correct mistakes you make along the way, and you can be enabled to overcome future challenges as they arise. Go to sacrament meeting each week, repent and start over, and keep your covenants with Him (2 Nephi 31:20).
Four, as you seek, receive, and act on personal promptings of the Holy Ghost, you will be guided and directed, and you don't ever need to feel alone or make any decision alone. You can have a member of the Godhead as your companion, your senior companion, every day. Being able to get answers by the Spirit is the most important skill you should have learned here.
Knowing these four important things, the Lord has a plan for you, you have responsibilities which you have already been taught, the Atonement of Christ will help you overcome, and the Spirit will guide you, is the most important knowledge to take away with you from BYU-Hawaii. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). Remember that the Lord has helped you before and He will help you again. As president Hinckley often said, "It will all work out" (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Put Your Trust in God," Ensign, Feb 2006, 63).
Much of your education has been paid for by the tithes, offerings, and donations of other faithful people. You are expected to leave here and live the gospel with excellence. You should live in such a way that when other people learn you have graduated from here, your name will bring honor to this institution and to all others who have come here over the years. If you are honorable, the name of BYU-Hawaii will also be held in honor.
I want to bear my testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and leave with you my personal love and confidence and also the love and confidence of the First Presidency and the board of trustees of this great university. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.