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Beyond Limits and Beyond Borders

Elder Ringwood, President Kauwe, esteemed guests, faculty, family, and most importantly to the phenomenal class of 2024, good morning, and aloha!

My friends, look how far we have come. We did it. We survived the endless stream of papers, never-ending presentations, and mind-numbing exams. Not only that, but we also persevered through a global pandemic that turned our college experience upside down. Online classes, social distancing, weekly Covid testing– all of these we have gone through. And now here we are, with our caps and gowns on, ready to step out into the big, wide world.

Let us face it, each of you has a story to share that deserves to be heard from this pulpit, but time is short so if I may, I would like to share with you a bit of mine– about this ambitious dreamer from the Philippines. 

Growing up, the idea of going to college seemed to be like the stars in the sky–beautiful- yet something almost impossible for me to reach. I remember when I was in high school, my family would often settle on eating rice with sugar, saving every penny just so I could afford to go to school. My mom would juggle a few heavy labor part-time jobs just so she could give me the chance that she never got, the chance of graduating from high school. Life was tough. During these times, it was the words of President Thomas S. Monson that gave me hope. He said, “...fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.” I may not have had much, but I certainly had faith, and that faith took me on a mission. [1]

It would not be until I was on that mission that I heard from a finishing elder that there existed something known as the “IWORK program.” I was surprised! It seemed too good to be true. Can education be accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few, even in big cities and more affluent countries? To the donors and supporters of the IWORK program, thank you–you brought down the stars from the sky and made them tangible for us to be able to ignite our futures.

So, as you can imagine, I was over the moon for an opportunity and made sure to submit my application for the BYUH IWORK program as soon as I could– only to be greeted with a letter that began with the words “Shareef Basan, we regret to inform you...” That letter hit like a tripwire, sending me tumbling back down. It seemed to me like the stars would stay high above me in the sky.

But instead of staying down on the ground, I decided to dust myself off, stand up and try again. Knowing it would require money to come to Hawaii, I decided to take a risk and move out of the province to Manila to find employment. Despite the pandemic, I took the risk of working even when a total lockdown was imposed in the Philippines. To continue my employment, I had to stay on-site and sleep under my desk. I remember one day receiving another letter, and this time it was the letter that I had been hoping and praying for. I was admitted to BYU–Hawaii and accepted into the IWORK program. I cried to sleep that night with a heart full of gratitude to my Heavenly Father.

My friends, I ask you to take some time and think, “What has been your driving force that got you to your cap and gown?” Take five seconds to close your eyes, breathe in, and honor that. For me, I held onto a dream with faith while never forgetting where I came from. 

We all came here with dreams. The path toward achieving our dream is often rough and challenging. It is filled with twists and turns, moments of doubt and fear. But always remember that dreams have the power to inspire us, to propel us forward, even in the face of extreme difficulty. Whatever dream it is that got you here, my friends, it worked. I invite you to continue dreaming. The world needs dreamers. It needs those who dare to imagine a better future, who are not afraid to challenge the impossible.  Because every solution, every innovation, every positive change started with a dream.

In closing, I want to thank my mom. Behind every dreamer is a source of inspiration, a guiding light that keeps the flame of hope alive. For me, that light has always been my mama. Her sacrifices, her unwavering support, and her belief in my dreams have been the cornerstone of my journey. We have not seen each other for more than eight years now. She wanted to come and join me on this special day, but unfortunately, her visa was denied. Mama, we may be thousands of miles apart, but this achievement is for you.

Class of 2024, as we embark on this new chapter and walk our separate ways, may we always remember that dreams transcend, beyond limits and beyond borders. Let us go forth from this place and make our mark on the world. Let us dream big and chase those dreams with courage and determination!

Congratulations, dreamers. The future is ours to shape, one dream at a time.

[1] Thomas S. Monson “Be of Good Cheer,” Ensign or Liahona April 2009, 92.