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Commencements

Enduring Designations

Elder and Sister Hales, President and Sister Kauwe, and everyone participating today, together we congratulate each of you marvelous graduates! We admire you for your faithfulness, for your discipleship, and also for your grit.

Thank you also to each of you at this university who serve these students and to the faithful, quiet tithe-payers and donors who’ve contributed so much to make today possible!

Wonderful

From now on you will be known as a college graduate, alumni of BYU–Hawaii. After all the late nights you’ve spent sweating over finals, that has to sound really great!

We often identify ourselves by accomplishments and labels. We tag one another by where we were born or where we went to school. We even classify one another by our jobs, our incomes, our accomplishments, and too often by our failures. We identify each other by our hair color, our eye color, and sadly sometimes even by our skin color. These are inconsequential labels compared to your eternal distinctions.

Think about this with e\me, Jesus was born in very poor circumstances2 and was often despised and rejected.3 When He was very young, He and His parents actually fled their home during the night, escaping as what we might call refugees to protect His life.4 Then, as a little boy, they were again immigrants to the country where He would grow up.5 He was raised by His birth mother, Mary, and by Joseph, who might appropriately be considered His adoptive father. But, you don’t think of Him by those labels, do you, because He is also the Redeemer of the World,6 “the Bread of Life,”7 the “Help of the Helpless,”8 the “Captain of our Salvation,”9 and our “High Priest of good things to come.”10 “His name [is indeed] called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”11

We would never let secondary labels define Him. And we must never let minor labels define us either! Doing so could limit the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, and the devil would then use that to divide us from each other, from the prophets, and eventually from Heavenly Father and the Savior.

Child of God

As President Kauwe said, President Russell M. Nelson recently taught, “People tag themselves or others with a variety of [minor] labels. ...The adversary rejoices in labels because they divide us and restrict the way we think about ourselves and each other. ...How sad it is when we honor labels more than we honor each other. ...The lesser labels we embrace, as important as they are, should never replace or take priority over…these three enduring designations: [first, that you are a] “child of God,” [second, that you are a] “child of the covenant,” and [third, that you are a] “disciple of Jesus Christ."12

President Kauwe and I, last week, talked on the phone and compared notes about our preparation. We realized we were going to give the same talk and we decided we should do it anyway because if we were both having the same feelings, then maybe there was something here for us.

President Nelson said, "I plead with you not to replace these three paramount and unchanging identifiers with any others."12

Heavenly must also want us to know this because, during the last general conference, He gave the same feelings to multiple speakers. Elder Jeffry R. Holland added, "[We] should never run away from who we are—children of the living God who loves us, who is always ready to forgive us, and who will never, ever forsake us."13 Then Elder Dale G. Renlund emphasized, “You are a beloved daughter [or son of heavenly parents]. Nothing you do—or do not do—can change that.”14

My wife, Connie, and I recently stumbled across a newspaper article announcing that a certain court of law had declared that a bumblebee is a fish.15 That was the headline, The article said, an “appeals court has ruled that, under certain circumstances, [bumble]bees are now legally considered fish.”

That’s a final exam I think I might actually pass! If you showed me a bumblebee and a fish and asked me which was which, well, let’s just say I don’t think I’d have to cram for that exam all night!

Courts, congresses, parliaments, public opinion polls, tweets, and Instagram posts cannot and will never change a bumblebee into a fish.

You are a son or a daughter of God. Again as Elder Renlund said, “Nothing you do—or do not do—can change that. ...We have ‘a divine nature.’ …It is spiritually “genetic,” inherited from our heavenly parents, and requires no effort on our part.”16 Elder Holland concluded, "You are His most precious possession. You are His child..."17

Knowing that, believing that, combined with a deep reverence for Jesus Christ who has atoned for us, changes everything. It changes how you dress, how you think, how you work, how you play. It changes how we think about ourselves, how we treat others, and even how we worship. Once we really believe these truths, we become free to “act for [ourselves], and not be acted upon”18 by opinions, labels, or circumstances.

So much of anxiety and doubt has some root in distinguishing physical features, backgrounds, abilities, and labels. So much of hatred and anger and dissension grows out of what, in eternity, will be completely inconsequential differences.

The degree to which you and I focus on our primary and common identity, will be a rock-solid foundation and will bring comfort and confidence.

The apostle Paul said it this way, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him...”19

No matter what others say, no matter how groups try to divide, polarize, and undermine us based on our language, ethnicity, gender, or religion, no matter your anxiety or worries or doubt, you, in the words of Parley P. Pratt, “[possess] every organ, attribute, sense, sympathy, and affection that is possessed by God Himself….these attributes are in [you in] embryo, and are to be gradually developed.”20

The Prophet’s Promise of Growth, Freedom, and Confidence

To conclude where we began, today you become a college graduate. You are one of a small percentage of those on earth who hold a bachelor’s degree. From today on, you are alumni of BYU–Hawaii, which, as we say, has become your alma mater, a Latin phrase meaning, “nourishing mother.”

Moreover, and of infinite eternal significance, even more than this cherished alma mater, today we’ve talked about our most important identity being as children of Deus Pater, God, our Father.

This point of doctrine is more important than every other secondary label. President Nelson encouraged us to have the eternal truth that we are children of God imprinted on our hearts and added that it would rescue us when we are confronted with temptation.21 When knowing you are a son or daughter of God is more powerful to you than the names people call you, or the labels and limits we place on ourselves, then we can see beyond this moment and behold what Heavenly Father intends us to become. When you and I realize that we are literally children of God, children of the covenant, and disciples of Jesus Christ, our love for Heavenly Father and the Savior will grow almost beyond comprehension, we will find it easier to love ourselves and allow ourselves to flourish, and only then can we truly love others as we’ve been commanded to do. When this happens, President Nelson said, “I promise that you will experience spiritual growth, freedom from fear, and a confidence that you can scarcely imagine now.”22

I bear my testimony of Him whose children you are, of His “Most Beloved” Son, who makes immediate hope and eternal joy possible, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and of those we unhesitatingly sustain as prophets and apostles at its head.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Notes

  1. Russell M. Nelson, Choices for Eternity, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, May 15, 2022
  2. Luke 2:7, 12
  3. Isaiah 53:3; Mosiah 14:3
  4. Matthew 2:13-14
  5. Matthew 2:19-21
  6. Doctrine and Covenants 19:1
  7. John 6:35
  8. Abide with Me, Hymn number 166
  9. Hebrews 2:10
  10. Hebrews 9:11; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, An High Priest of Good Things to Come, October 1999
  11. Isaiah 9:6
  12. Russell M. Nelson, Choices for Eternity, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, May 15, 2022
  13. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, Fear Not: Believe Only!, April 2022
  14. Elder Dale G. Renlund, Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny, General Conference, April 2022
  15. Herald and News, California court rules a bumble bee is a fish with legal protectionsJune 8, 2022
  16. Elder Dale G. Renlund, Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny, General Conference, April 2022
  17. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, Fear Not: Believe Only!, April 2022
  18. 2 Nephi 2:26
  19. Romans 8:16-17
  20. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 101- 103)
  21. Russell M. Nelson, Choices for Eternity, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, May 15, 2022
  22. Russell M. Nelson, Choices for Eternity, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, May 15, 2022