Brothers and Sisters, aloha! Brother and Sister Cordon, President and Sister Tanner, everyone here, I join you in congratulating these remarkable graduates on their extraordinary achievement.
As you graduate and leave this university, you're going to miss this gorgeous campus. One thing I would miss is the garlic shrimp from Romy’s shrimp truck. You probably aren’t going to miss having your alarm go off at 7:55 am only to race out the door as you finish dressing for your 8:00 am English Lit class. I hope you didn’t miss the chance to learn about confidence intervals and hypothesis testing by convincing that cute girl or guy in your statistics class that you needed their help studying! You’re definitely going to miss sunrises over the beach. It’s just not going to be the same when your relaxing escape ends up on a city street complete with traffic lights and honking horns rather than soothing waves and sand. You probably won't miss all-night cram sessions, microwave meals, and pop quizzes.
I did some quick calculations. In preparation for today, you’ve taken over 300 tests and quizzes and spent over 5,000 hours in class and doing homework. And while you’re relieved to have passed your last final, some of you perhaps as recently as this week, you already understand on some level that the Lord might have a pop quiz or mid-term still in your future.
There’s a school holiday in Utah during which students escape for a long weekend. Along with the friendships and laughter, the weekend too often includes temptation.
Following that weekend one year, when my religious ed students returned to class, I said with a big smile, “Welcome back. I missed you. Please place your bags under your desk, we’re having a pop quiz.”
That was met with a chorus of what the scriptures call, “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth!” And when I added, “Oh, and this quiz is just one question long and will be your grade for the semester,” that only increased the decibels of the cries for mercy and compassion.
“Take out a piece of paper, put your name on top. Here we go.”
“This weekend, while you were away with your friends, playing in the sunshine and swimming pools, did you live the things we have been learning from the life of the Savior? That’s it. That’s the quiz.”
Every head popped up. “The quizzes and tests which are the most important,” we went on to discuss, “aren’t the ones you take on paper. They’re the ones you take on the weekend. And why are we studying the Savior and the scriptures anyway, if not to help us pass this next weekend’s pop quiz?”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once taught, Because God loves us, “He will customize the curriculum for each of us in order to teach us the things we most need [and]… not always what we like.”[i]
You can be assured that as you leave this campus and enroll in the Lord’s “customized curriculum,” it will include quizzes and midterms.
You may not be selected for that perfect job or get married as quickly as you might have hoped. You may face a disease you wish you could cure or have your life turned upside down by the choices of others. You may encounter dark days of depression, difficulty, or even doubt. Every one of us will most certainly face temptation.
As much as you relished acing that last final exam, the Lord’s curriculum for us ensures quizzes won’t end with today’s ceremony. Some of those quizzes will be routine, and others will be so soul-stretching that your calculus final might feel like beginner’s math. And studying for the Lord’s quizzes doesn’t usually take place at the beach. It takes place on our knees, in the early mornings, and daily study is preferable to last-minute cramming.
A Final, Final Exam
I always loved it when professors told me ahead of time what was going to be on a quiz or let me take a page of formulas into my math test. However, unlike your finance or art history final, in the curriculum the Lord has prepared, the Holy Ghost is already whispering the answers to you.
President Boyd K. Packer said, “Once you have [discovered how the Holy Ghost operates in your life], you can live in enemy territory and will not be deceived or destroyed. No member of this Church…will ever make a serious mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”[ii]
Following this life’s customized curriculum, our final examination is not quite like the McKay Building testing center. In what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and inspiring ironies in all of scripture, the Savior accompanies us to our final, final examination. He stands beside us, and then pleads in a way that is unexpected, at least to me. He begins,
“Listen to him…who is pleading your cause before [the Father], Saying,”
Now at this point I’ve imagined Him pleading my cause by convincingly proclaiming what a good guy I am, airdropping copies of my transcript, or reading my resume of imagined accomplishments.
However, in this inspiring and humbling irony, He pleads our cause not based on our merits, but rather, based on His! He continues,
“Father, …behold the blood of thy Son which was shed…Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”[iii]
Congratulations on your tremendous accomplishment today. You have spent many early mornings, late nights, and Saturdays to get here. Because of your diligence and success, you are being awarded today with a graduation diploma from Brigham Young University‒Hawaii. And in a very real sense, this is a commencement as you now enroll in the rest of the curriculum the Lord has customized for you.
I testify that the Holy Ghost is already preparing you for every quiz or examination you will face and that in the end, the Savior will plead our cause, after all we can do, based on His merits. And I testify that He is mighty to save; He is gracious and merciful. And He has all the answers we will ever need if we will only listen.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[i] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, But for a Small Moment, BYU Devotional, September 1, 1974
[ii] President Boyd K. Packer, How to Survive in Enemy Territory, Seminary Centennial Broadcast address, January 22, 2012
[iii] D&C 45:3-5, see also 6-8