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Graduation Gifts

It is an honor for me to be here on this important and historic day for you as graduates of Brigham Young University–Hawaii. Congratulations to each of you for your hard work and effort to complete the required coursework and for having achieved the designation of a BYU–Hawaii graduate.

I remember my own college commencement exercises in 1980 as I graduated from what was then Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City. Perhaps you were like me during my college days, wondering if commencement would ever come. But come it did. A lot has happened in the intervening years, and now it’s in the shadows of my memories of long ago. Nonetheless, it gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment to be a college graduate.

As I consider where I’ve been in life and where I am currently, I’ve thought of things that I now understand better. Having passed through a good portion of the “school of hard knocks,” please accept, as simple graduation gifts from me to you, three insights.

First, the concept of “Whatever Is, Is Right.”

Alexander Pope, who some consider to be the foremost English poet of the early 18th century, coined the phrase “whatever is, is right,”1 which has been written about and analyzed by those with great minds. In one sense, this could appear to be a statement of fatalistic defeat; that we are powerless to do anything about our circumstances and the events that we encounter in life. In other words, we could be tempted to say that whatever happens to me (good or bad), I am powerless to change it.

For me, and I’m still working on it, the phrase “whatever is, is right” means that rather than bemoaning my circumstances⁠–especially when they are beyond my control, I need to find a way to accept them and then work through them or around them.

Consider this example: Thomas Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1,000 other things. By December 1914, he had worked for ten years on a storage battery. This had greatly strained his finances.

At 5:30 on the evening of December 10, 1914, a massive explosion erupted in West Orange, New Jersey. Ten buildings in Edison's facility, which made up more than half of the site, were engulfed in flames. Between six and eight fire departments rushed to the scene, but the chemical-fueled inferno was too powerful to put out quickly.

Although the damage exceeded two million dollars–in 1914 dollars, the buildings were only insured for $238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof. Much of Edison’s life’s work went up in spectacular flames that December night.

According to a 1961 Reader's Digest article, as the fire was destroying Edison’s work, he calmly walked over to his 24-year-old son, Charles, and said, "Go get your mother and all her friends. They'll never see a fire like this again." When Charles objected, Edison said, "It's all right. We've just got rid of a lot of rubbish."

“Later, Edison was quoted in The New York Times as saying at the scene of the blaze, ‘Although I am over 67 years old, I'll start all over again tomorrow.’”

Exhausted from remaining at the scene until the chaos was under control, Edison stuck to his word and [instead of bemoaning his fate, he] immediately began rebuilding the next morning without [terminating] any of his employees.”2

He said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are [thereby] burned up. Thank [heaven], we can begin anew.”

With faith and hope, Thomas Edison faced a very difficult set of circumstances. He could not change the fact that the factory had been destroyed by fire but rather, set about to do what he could.

When we experience our own difficulties—large or small—an important thing for us to remember is that we are far more likely to work through the difficulties we face if our lives, hearts, and faith are centered on Jesus Christ. Life will be more peaceful for us if we accept our circumstances as they are and then we go to work to address those that we want to change.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”3

Like us, he knew what it was to have bad things happen to him. But he also knew what it was like to have good things happen in his life. And then, Paul makes this timeless statement, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”4

The so-called “Serenity Prayer,” often attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, is helpful in understanding this concept, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”5

Did you receive a grade that still embarrasses you? Well, you can’t do anything about it at this point—but very likely there are lessons that can be learned from that situation.

Is your family situation not ideal? Ask yourself if there would be any value in discussing your concerns with those family members. Ask yourself if there is anything you can change about yourself to improve the situation.

Perhaps there are things about our lives that may not seem ideal or even fair. The challenge is to acknowledge that our life is “right” because it is our reality at the present time. If we don’t like it, we seek God’s help to inspire us to have the strength and ability to change—what we can change.

At the age of 18 months, Helen Keller was struck by illness and was suddenly shut off from the world, becoming both blind and deaf. Against overwhelming odds, she waged a slow, hard, but successful battle to reenter that same world. The little deaf and blind girl who could not talk grew into a highly intelligent and sensitive woman who wrote, spoke, and labored incessantly for the betterment of others.

Even when she was a child, Helen Keller said against all odds, “Someday I [will] go to college.” In 1898 she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for Radcliffe College. She entered Radcliffe in the fall of 1900 and received her Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1904. Throughout these years and until her own death in 1936, Anne Sullivan was always by Helen’s side, laboriously spelling book after book and lecture after lecture, into her pupil’s hand.

In addition, Helen was a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers. She used a Braille typewriter to prepare her manuscripts and then copied them on a regular typewriter.

During her lifetime, Miss Keller received awards of great distinction from organizations all over the world. She [completed] several globe-circling tours on behalf of the blind.6

Despite great physical trials, by all accounts, Helen Keller accepted her situation as it was, but made the most of it and accomplished great things.

Life will be less stressful, less frustrating, and we will be happier people if we can learn that “whatever is, is right” and then go to work to improve what we can improve, accept those things we can’t change, and then make the most of them.

The second gift I offer is: that repentance is something to be sought after, not something to run away from.

I confess that when I was younger, I grew weary of hearing so much about repentance. If a speaker or teacher began to address the principle of repentance, I’m frank to admit that my tendency was to put my head in my hands and think, “Oh, please! Not repentance again!”

When I was younger, I did not comprehend the glorious blessing we have of changing. The Bible Dictionary definition of repentance gives us hope. It is an encouraging and even a happy principle:

“The Greek word of which [the word ‘repentance’] is the translation, denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.7

President Russell M. Nelson stated that, “Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ…Repentance is the key to avoiding misery inflicted by the traps of the adversary.”8

We should embrace repentance as the tool the Lord has given us to make the changes we need to make—as often as we need to.9 Doing so will make us better people in all respects and prepare us for our eternal destiny of "never-ending happiness”10 with those we love.

We know that repentance includes the concept of restitution for those things that might have been damaged or lost through our own sins. When we sincerely repent, we restore that which is in our power to restore. However, in some cases, we might not be able to do much about restitution.

President Boyd K. Packer gave some comforting counsel in this regard, “Some worry endlessly over missions that were missed, or marriages that did not turn out, or babies that did not arrive, or children that seem lost, or dreams unfulfilled. I do not think it pleases the Lord when we worry because we think we never do enough or that what we do is never good enough. Some needlessly carry a heavy burden of guilt which could be removed through confession and repentance.”11

The third gift: We can and must trust the Lord to deliver us.

This gift is closely related to the first gift. As we are convened in this commencement and graduation event, we know that we live in a day of great turmoil and distress. We can hardly hear or read a media report that does not include accounts of serious crime, graft, runaway inflation, supply chain issues, natural disasters, dishonesty (even in high places), poverty, civil unrest, riots, wars and rumors of war,12 etc., etc. And so, you may wonder just what is “commencing” for you and what you are graduating to!

But it was always thus. Each succeeding generation has had its various problems. For example, when I graduated college in 1980, the annual inflation rate was 12.5%. In 1982 when we bought our first home, mortgage interest rates were hovering near 16% and higher. As a country and as a family, we were in a financial crunch. Our family penny-pinching seemed to go on for many years.

Hard things have always been with the human race. Elder Ezra Taft Benson made this statement at the October 1966 general conference 56 years ago, “…the war in heaven over…agency is now being waged here on earth.”13

He then references Captain Moroni, whose courage, faith, and actions were vital in saving the Nephites during a period of fierce war. As stated in the Book of Mormon, “Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country and his brethren…Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion…”14

The United States is not at war in the traditional sense as were the Nephites, but worldwide we are involved in a very fierce war—perhaps the fiercest in our history—the war between good and evil. But I hope that like Captain Moroni, we will find joy in liberty and freedom. To do that, each of us will need to be firm in the faith of Christ, ready to do his or her part to ensure that a complete, eventual victory over evil through Jesus Christ will be ours. This war of good versus evil may be our great trial—indeed, it is a war that will intensify and will be waged until the Savior’s return.

It will take great faith to trust that the Lord will deliver us. Without that faith and trust, we risk succumbing to the condition described in the Doctrine and Covenants where “all things shall be in commotion; [and]….surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people.”15

Nonetheless, I testify that despite world conditions, we need not fear. We can have peace in our hearts and in our homes. We can trust fully in the Lord’s promise that we will be delivered. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament, clearly teach the promise of God’s deliverance of and help to His people. And that deliverance is available for the unique circumstances which each of us now face and will yet face.

How do we develop that faith or trust?

“Nephi once shared a key to developing the kind of unshakeable faith he gained. In spite of weakness and trial, he said, ‘I know in whom I have trusted.'16 We must know Jesus Christ and trust Him [or in other words, have faith in Him].

“To…[develop faith in] Jesus Christ means, among other things, to strive to learn of Him, follow His truths, listen to His prophets, keep His commandments, pray to the Father in His name, repent, make and keep covenants, and serve Him [and our brothers and sisters]. As we do these things, we receive the witness of the Holy Ghost as well as other blessings and gifts through the Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ. This leads us to trust [and develop faith in] Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.”17

St. Francis de Sales, a French Catholic Bishop who lived in the 16th century, sums up the matter of faith and trust in these words:

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then. Put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations and say continually: ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in him and I am helped. He is not only with me but in me, and I in Him.’”18

Graduates of BYU–Hawaii, my sincere hope is that these three simple gifts will benefit you. I hope that you will learn—in your relative youth—the blessing of accepting life as it comes, and with the help of the Lord changing those things you can change, repenting as often as necessary, and trusting the Lord completely.

I share with you two final scriptures among many that summarize the Lord’s goodness to us, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom [or what] shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom [or of what] shall I be afraid?”19

And second, “And now…I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”20

I testify that our Heavenly Father loves us and is eager for us to return to Him in a glorified and perfected state to experience “never-ending happiness.”21 Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer who makes it possible to return to the Father. The Holy Ghost is a precious gift and companion. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, brought forth through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith. President Russell M. Nelson is the Lord’s prophet. The saving and exalting gospel principles, ordinances, and covenants are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


  1. Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man,” Epistle 1, X
  2. Feloni, Richard. Yahoo! Finance, May 9, 2014, (Thomas Edison's Reaction To His Factory Burning Down Shows Why He Was So Successful; How Thomas Edison & His Business Came Back From a Tragic Fire; Nova Fusion: Thomas Edison Fire)
  3. Philippians 4:12
  4. Philippians 4:13
  5. There is more than one version of the prayer. This version was quoted by Fred R. Shapiro, (April 28, 2014), "Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?" The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  6. Excerpted from a synopsis on the life of Helen Keller, published in 1975 by the American Foundation for the Blind.
  7. Bible Dictionary, "Repentance"
  8. President Russell M. Nelson, April 2019 General Conference, Priesthood Session
  9. Moroni 6:8 and Mosiah 26:30
  10. Mosiah 2:41
  11. President Boyd K. Packer, General Conference, October 2004
  12. Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7
  13. Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, October 1966
  14. Alma 48:11, 13
  15. Doctrine and Covenants 88:91, italics added
  16. 2 Nephi 4:19
  17. To the Point: "How can I develop unshakeable faith and overcome doubt?"
  18. St. Francis de Sales
  19. Psalm 27:1
  20. Alma 38:5
  21. Mosiah 2:41