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Embrace Your Divine Identity

Congratulations! My college graduation was a joyful experience. I hope today is full of joy and excitement for you as well.

On May 15, 2022, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to the young adults of the Church in a worldwide devotional. This devotional was the first time the President of the Church has addressed all young adults since President Hinckley's devotional in November 2000, almost 22 years ago. President Nelson’s message was significant, and not just because he showed a photo of him and Sister Nelson wearing BYU–Hawaii sweatshirts!

Now about that, I heard that there was some cheering in the CAC when he showed that slide! I should tell you that Monica and I were in the conference center for his address...when I saw the slide I nearly cheered too–but I restrained myself and limited my response to a celebratory fist-pump and barely audible “yessah!”

I can assure you from personal experience that President Nelson loves you. He works carefully and closely with the rest of the Board of Trustees, the Commissioner’s office, and the leadership of BYU–Hawaii to ensure that you have everything you need to facilitate your spiritual and educational progression. With that knowledge and the personal relevance of the photo he shared, I hope you know that God loves you and has directed His prophet to be mindful of you. I hope you paid special attention to the message that President Nelson received from God and delivered to you.

The purpose of my remarks is to remind you about how this message relates to you today and going forward.

President Nelson urged us to understand three fundamental truths as we prepare for the future:

First, know the truth about who you are;

Second, know the truth about what Heavenly Father and His Son have offered you; and

Third, know the truth related to your conversion.

Regarding the first point, he taught that you are, first and foremost, a child of God. Then, as a member of His church, you are a child of the covenant. And third, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. He also shared some labels that are important to him and reminded us that other labels may also be important to us and of significance in our lives.

Upon hearing this talk, I reflected on how I label myself, how I might prompt others to label me, and the priority I give to each of those labels. I realized that my social media profile was a place where I have directly and indirectly specified and influenced those labels.

On my Instagram profile, it read, “President of BYU–Hawaii, husband, father, kānaka maoli, fisherman, member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

It seems I was missing ALL THREE of the most important defining characteristics of who I am- a child of God, a child of the covenant, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Maybe if you grade leniently, the last one partially captures the three items President Nelson taught us. Sadly, even if you give me that, the labels are not listed in the right order!

While writing this talk, I updated my Instagram profile. It now reads, “Child of God and disciple of Jesus Christ; Husband, Father, President of BYU–Hawaii, Kanaka maoli, waterman.”

As I pondered President Nelson’s words, I felt grateful that I have been behaving in ways that reflect those labels and their relative priorities. I also felt motivated to be careful, as President Nelson taught, “that no identifier should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations: “child of God,” “child of the covenant,” and “disciple of Jesus Christ.”

I urge each of you to remember these three designations and ensure that the labels you embrace in your life are properly prioritized and fully compatible with them.

On your list, I EXPECT to see BYU–Hawaii Seasider! It is a prized label that is fully compatible with these designations! 

Second, President Nelson instructed that you should know the truth of what Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have offered you. He taught that, “Through His Atonement, the Lord Jesus Christ overcame the world. Therefore, He is “mighty to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” He will deliver you from your most excruciating circumstances in His own way and time. As you come unto Him in faith, He will guide, preserve, and protect you. He will heal your broken heart and comfort you in distress. He will give you access to His power. And He will make the impossible in your life become possible.”

You have spent years here at BYU–Hawaii. Thank you for being a blessing to your fellow students, to your faculty and staff, to this university, and to this community during your time here. Thank you for helping to gather Israel by sharing the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ through your words and example.

Because of your experiences you can exclaim, like President David O. McKay did so many years ago, “What an example in this little place of the purposes of our Father in Heaven to unite all peoples by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

President Nelson also reminded us that God, “cares deeply that all His children have an opportunity to hear the glad tidings of the restored gospel,” and that we have an “essential role” in the gathering of Israel.

Each of God’s children needs to know the joy and salvation that is brought through the gospel. Here at BYU–Hawaii, you experienced the special power of the gospel in uniting all people. As you go forth to serve, please continue to use that power to gather Israel and build the Kingdom of God.

Finally, President Nelson urged you to know the truth related to your conversion. He asked you to “engage in daily, earnest, and humble prayer.” He asked you to read and heed the words of ancient and modern prophets. He asked you to “make your testimony your highest priority” and “watch for miracles to happen in your life.”

In promises that are as powerful today as when they were given in 2011, then Elder Russell M. Nelson told BYUH graduates, “You enter a world caught in a steep slippery slide of diminishing moral values. Against that backdrop, your character and integrity will let you stand out and shine like a lighthouse. If you are true and faithful, you will stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding masses mired in mediocrity. You will be anchored to eternal truth. You, your families, and your homes will become beacons of hope in a darkened world. You will be seen as citadels of stability wherever you live. Your faith and optimism will make you leaders in your communities, in your countries, and in the kingdom of God on earth.”

Your education at BYU–Hawaii has been centered around the three truths that President Nelson talked about in his devotional. You are prepared to embrace and prioritize your identity as a child of God, child of the covenant, and disciple of Christ.

I assure you that you can honor your covenants despite the pressure and challenges you will face. I also assure you that miracles will happen when you strive to keep your covenants and prioritize your testimony of the gospel.

In closing, I testify to you that we are children of God, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that our covenants with God are real, and that He fulfills His promises. I testify that you are of divine heritage, and that honoring your covenants with God qualifies you to be a leader and a force for good and joy in this world. I love you and pray for your continued success and happiness. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.