I offer my congratulations to the graduates today on this important accomplishment. I also express my gratitude and admiration to family members and friends of the graduates who have made this achievement possible. Thanks also goes to faculty, staff, and administration at this wonderful university who do so much to bless the lives of these students. I am very grateful for those who support this institution financially, including members of the Church throughout the world who are faithful tithe payers.
Think back one year ago. Who would have predicted the conditions we find ourselves in for this commencement? Who would have thought that the last part of your education here would be done remotely? It has been a surprising, challenging year, but you have finished your work here, and we celebrate this remarkable accomplishment in your life. You have a bright future ahead of you despite the current challenges in the world.
Each generation faces its own set of trials and challenges. My grandparents were your age during World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. My parents grew up in the Great Depression and were college-aged during World War II. My generation grew up in a time of political unrest, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the rise of the drug culture and breakdown of societal morals. My children grew up in the time of the terrorism of September 11, 2001, and the knowledge-explosion brought on by the expansion of the internet, with both the good and bad that comes of that. You depart BYU–Hawaii in a time of pandemic, a polarization of society, and the far-reaching positive and negative effects of the social media flood.
In addition to generational challenges, all individuals face personal trials during their lifetime. In spite of worldwide and individual challenges, people from generations that have gone before you have been able to do what the Lord wanted them to do. You will too. The faithful who went before you did not shrink from nor shirk their responsibilities. You will not either.
Think of Nephi building the ship. It was something he did not know how to do, but he had the guidance from the Lord. His building the ship can be likened to you building your life. He wrote:
“The Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.
“Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.
“And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.”[i]
Like Nephi, if you will seek, the Lord will show you “from time to time after what manner” you should work the timbers of your life. It will be different than “the manner of men.” And along the way, He will show you great things. He will help you get through whatever wilderness and over whatever seas separate you from your promised land.
I have been impressed with how President and Sister Kauwe have handled the major life change of this assignment in the midst of this pandemic year. They have gone forward with faith, have had the Lord show them how to work a few timbers, and have received direction and revelation for them and for the university. Like the Jaredites, both the Kauwes and all of you allow the Lord to take you to the promised land as you get aboard your vessels and set forth into the sea. For you who so commend yourselves to the Lord, even the wind, the waves, and the storms you face will blow you toward the promised land.[ii]
Your education here in your field of study will be a blessing to you. In addition to the valuable things you have learned about secular subjects, you also walk away from your experience here with priceless spiritual treasures. You have come closer to your Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and have learned to be guided by the Holy Ghost. Your spiritual growth will be a bulwark against any storms in life you may face.
We currently have four grandchildren serving missions. Two were recently called and are serving in the missions where they were originally assigned. The other two are currently serving in different missions than their original assignments. One spent a number of months in Australia and is now serving in North Carolina. The other was called to the Baltic Mission, learned Russian in the MTC, and since the MTC, has been serving in Texas. All four of these grandsons have faced trials in their lives. Three have had a parent die when they were younger. One is a cancer survivor.
In their young lives they have faced some difficult trials and are now serving as missionaries in a very different situation than has been the case for most missionaries in past years. Like most of us in the midst of challenges, they are finding joy, inspiration, and help in their work.
James, who is now serving in North Carolina, lost his mother about five and a half years ago. In a recent email, he wrote concerning some challenges faced in missionary work: “God's plan is way bigger than us, and what we term ‘blessings’ may or may not be, in actuality, blessings. I, for one, know that some of the biggest blessings in my life seemed like the biggest trials at the time.”[iii]
Another grandson, Steven, was diagnosed with bone cancer almost 10 years ago. He had chemotherapy and had a leg amputated. He was very grateful and excited to be able to serve a mission. As part of his preparation, he had an extra prosthetic leg built in case he wears out his current one. He wrote some thoughts that relate to all the changing circumstances we face:
“Dealing with a changing world is tough. . . . But when we have a rock-solid foundation built on our faith, even the uncomfortable things become comfortable. And we can move forward with hope that the unexpected will be fun, that God will still be with us no matter the circumstances, and above all with hope that no goodbye is forever. That is the hope Christ brings; I am so happy to believe in Him with who[m] eventually every ending ends up excellent.”[iv]
Earth life seems to pack in plenty of challenges and uncertainty. The current world situation is evidence of that. Some of you may be facing uncertainty with employment or next steps in your journey of life. Although we deal with uncertainty in certain aspects of life, we have promises that are sure. We cannot allow uncertain prospects to shake us from the certain promises of the Lord.
The Lord wants to help you, build you, strengthen you, and inspire you. He can and will develop you if you allow it.
Satan wants to frighten you, discourage you, and stop you from fulfilling your eternal destiny. He makes efficient use of the great and spacious building. Mocking, scoffing, and pointing fingers can be very influential. The fine apparel, sophisticated-looking people, and the impressive building itself can spark a strong attraction. If we focus on the building and pay heed to the mockers, we will lose sight of the tree and the fruit that is “desirable above all other fruit.”[v]
The Lord offers us guidance, power, and comfort. How can we cut through the worldly noise that surrounds us? I have tried some nice noise-cancelling headphones, and it is amazing how they silenced much of the outside noise so I could focus on the music playing in the headphones. They remove much of the distraction. Wouldn’t it be great to have a set of noise-cancelling headphones that remove worldly noise?
While they do not make such a product, we can dampen the worldly noise in our lives through some simple means that you have learned more about here at BYU–Hawaii. When we live our covenants, we cut down the worldly noise in our lives. Small and simple acts bring great blessings. Simple can be profound. Quiet can be powerful. Small can be life changing.
We grow and develop line upon line. Sometimes we get discouraged because we want to be fully developed right now. It does not work that way. We follow the Savior, and then He changes our hearts. We keep our covenants, and He changes our natures. These changes take time.
Our grandson James also wrote in an email, “Progression is not a straight slope: expect to spend some time climbing out of ditches. Expect even to find yourself occasionally tumbling into them. All through it, remember this: that of every step in the walk of life, the most important is always the next. Stare back at your imperfections, confident with the knowledge that someday—gradually, miraculously—they will be conquered."[vi]
As you turn this new page in your life, go forward with faith. I know that not only can you survive the challenges and trials you face but you can thrive. I know this because I have a small sense for the power of God and know of the sureness of His promises. Those promises are yours by covenant, and no one can take them away. They are lost only if we turn from our covenants and fail to repent.
I pray the Lord will bless you through your life and bring to your mind the eternal things you have learned here.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] 1 Nephi 18:1–3.
[ii] See Ether 6:4–10.
[iii] James Linton, email message to author, November 3, 2020.
[iv] Steven Blodgett, email message to author, December 7, 2020.
[v] 1 Nephi 8:12; see also verses 25–28.
[vi] James Linton, email message to author, November 3, 2020.