I am delighted to address you today at this commencement ceremony. I am so grateful for each of you and for your efforts to make this day a reality. I am also grateful for the cooperation and sacrifice that has allowed us to have this semester of school and this ceremony today. What a wonderful event for you, our graduates, your families, and all of us at the university. We are excited to celebrate the many things you have accomplished and achieved while you have been here at BYU–Hawaii and rejoice with you on this day when you move to a new and exciting stage of your life and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Most of you have spent a considerable amount of time here on campus, learning and growing, both academically and individually. You’ve learned to work in high-pressure situations and found success through difficult and unprecedented challenges. You’ve developed analytical and problem-solving skills that you will use for a lifetime. You've developed social and emotional intelligence as well. You know how to love and appreciate roommates, friends, and classmates from all over the world. You’ve been exposed to multicultural and international activities that have captured your interest and broadened your horizons. You’ve been a good friend and neighbor. And most importantly, you've learned how to work together with others to honor your covenants with your Heavenly Father and to honor the commitments you've made to the university and your fellow students.
Surely you have developed and maintained some good habits along this journey. I hope and expect that these habits include daily prayer and scripture study, church activity and attendance, and many other small and frequent actions that lead you to spiritual and temporal success. These small daily decisions, now habits, have prepared you to move on and be a meaningful contributor to your family, your community, and your chosen profession. It will be a new environment, with new people, new challenges, and new opportunities all around you. That newness means that it will be an important time for you to decide once again who you are, what kind of commitments you are going to make, how you will honor your covenants, and who and how you will serve. These are some of the most important life choices you will ever make, with significant earthly and eternal consequences.
Let’s consider the story of Joshua, the great prophet who led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. In his farewell speech to the Israelites, an aging Joshua called the people together and reminded them of all the wonderful things the Lord had done for them, including bringing them to already built cities and providing sustenance for them from ready to harvest vineyards and olives groves. He was worried about their tendency to honor and worship things from other parts of their lives, things that were not of God. In one of the most quoted verses of scripture, he states, “choose ye this day whom ye will serve...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The full text of verses 14 and 15 reads,
"Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)1
The prophet of the Lord is pleading with his people, asking them to serve the Lord “in sincerity and in truth.” He is warning them that there will be temptation to follow other paths, and even those that make it seem that serving the Lord is “evil.”
When Joshua says “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” he is helping his people, and us in our day, understand that serving the Lord in sincerity and truth means forsaking other Gods- those other things that we might value over our Heavenly Father and those things that we might value over honoring the covenants we have made with Him. The strong and simple choice to serve the Lord and forsake other influences will direct your actions in every choice you make moving forward. It is not sufficient to squeeze the Lord into a few minutes of your life here and there. We cannot serve him by nodding toward the heavens on a few occasions each week, or even each day. President David O. McKay, who has a special place in the hearts of every BYU–Hawaii student, taught us that,
"It is not an easy thing in this old world to make God the center of our being. To do so we must determine to keep his commandments. Spiritual attainment, not physical possessions, not the indulgence and the gratification of the body, must become the chief goal.”
"Only in the complete surrender of our inner life may we rise above the selfish, sordid pull of nature. We should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
“… Let us resolve that from now on we are going to be men and women of higher and more sterling character, more conscious of our weaknesses, more kind and charitable toward the failings of others. Let us resolve that we shall practice more self-control in our homes; that we shall control our tempers, our feelings, and our tongues that they may not wander beyond the bounds of right and purity; that we shall do more seeking to develop the spiritual side of our lives, and realize how dependent we are upon God for success in this life.” (David O. McKay, "Old Battles Yet to be Fought—New Victories to Win," Conference Report, October 1945, pp. 129-135.) 2
As you move forward, you will face difficult decisions daily - challenges to your integrity in the workplace, worry and fear about the way the world views you, discouragement and disappointment that makes you question the Lord’s role in your life, hobbies and interests that take too much time away from that which is most important, technology and entertainment that distract your mind from faith and family, and many others.
In the face of those challenges, the urging of Joshua becomes even more important. “Choose ye this day.” Will you listen and follow the prophet’s direction for us? Will you choose to serve the Lord in sincerity and truth? Will you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
You will. And you will be blessed for it.
President Russell M. Nelson recently taught us of those blessings saying, “The Lord has declared that despite today’s unprecedented challenges, those who build their foundations upon Jesus Christ and have learned how to draw upon His power, need not succumb to the unique anxieties of this era.” 3
In one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin said, “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” I join with him and bear my testimony of his words that, "they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” 4
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Joshua 24:14-15.
2. David O. McKay, "Old Battles Yet to be Fought—New Victories to Win," Conference Report, October 1945, pp. 129-135.
3. Russell M. Nelson, "The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation", October 2021 General Conference.
4. Mosiah 2:41.