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Navigating Life’s Plot Twists

Elder Kearon, President Kauwe, honored guests, and the phenomenal Class of Fall 2023, good morning and Aloha!

I am humbled, honored, and quite anxious to be standing here today to address the remarkable graduating class which I am so proud to be a part of. We all chose to attend BYU–Hawaii for a myriad of reasons. Regardless of them all, we are now at the pinnacle of our academic journey. There are stereotypes associated with each major. Mine is communications, and people associate me with never running out of things to say. Perhaps that is true on most occasions, but today, I’m at a loss for words as I reflect on how amazing the past four years have been. But by amazing, I do not mean smooth sailing. Instead, it’s more like that popular soundtrack from the movie Lilo & Stitch, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.” It has definitely felt that way most of the time.

A little bit about me, my name is Crystal Tania. My middle name is Emily, but I like to joke around and say that my middle name is Ball. And that would make me “Crystal Ball,” meaning I would have the psychic ability to predict one’s future. I really wish that was the case, because it would be especially helpful for me to answer one of the most common interview questions to date: “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” I’ve come to strongly dislike that question. Five years? I couldn't even decide what to eat for dinner last night. You see, it’s not that I don’t have goals, like many of you, I also feel this pressure to have my life planned out. But in all honesty, don’t we all feel a bit nervous thinking of what lies ahead?

This reminds me of my last semester in high school. While my friends were proudly declaring their acceptance to the top universities back home, I was still awaiting the acceptance letter from the only university I applied to, BYU–Hawaii. I had been preparing to come to BYU–Hawaii since I was 12, yet I still doubted myself. When I finally got accepted months later, I pictured rainbows and everything good throughout my college journey.

My first semester finally came, but it was cut short due to COVID-19. And just like that, we were all back to square one, wondering what just happened? Will we ever continue our studies on the island again? In hindsight, the pandemic brought some blessings. While my friends took advantage of this time to get married without a long list of guests, I went for the next best thing, doing an internship at a pharmaceutical company in Boston that produced the vaccines for COVID-19.

I was thrilled for that new beginning. But then, there was the day I found myself overwhelmed and crying in the restroom. It led me to take a walk outside and impulsively pour my heart out to a kind stranger, who I later discovered was an MIT brain professor. She was probably exerting all her knowledge to analyze my brain activity at that moment. I hope she’s not using this as a case study in her lectures. It was a rough beginning that ended on a wonderful note.

Friends, I share this with you because as we step into the future, uncertainties will greet us at every turn, but we will always make it through. Sometimes, the unexpected opportunities that first raise doubt turn out to be the very best for us. Other times, we eagerly embark on journeys only to find unforeseen challenges along the way. Trusting the process is hard when we're in the midst of it. Yet, it is always comforting to remember that Heavenly Father will never abandon us and that He has a unique plan for each of us. It is good to craft our 5-year plans, but ultimately our timeline is in His hands. As Elder Uchtdorf said, “Faith means that we trust not only in God’s wisdom but that we trust also in His love. It means trusting that God loves us perfectly, that everything He does—every blessing He gives and every blessing He, for a time, withholds—is for our eternal happiness.” [1]

In my communications classes, we analyzed a lot of movies. So let me tell you this, we are all the main characters of our stories. Heavenly Father is the director and producer. Our struggles, or as I like to call them plot twists, are necessary for character development because main characters are never boring. Luckily, we have professors and mentors who care about us, acting as the guide in our storyline. Each semester was simply a different season. Today we’ve reached our season finale. Just as movies leave us eagerly anticipating sequels, our lives hold the promise of exciting adventures beyond.

To quickly recap the past four years, we’ve greeted our friends like celebrities as we walked down the McKay hallway, debated food preferences at the Banyan Dining Hall, performed our best and screamed at the top of our lungs during Culture Nights. But let’s not forget how we also showed up to class on our worst days, sacrificed sleep to turn in assignments, and shed some tears in the frustration that is life. Now, ask yourself, would you trade this unique experience for anything else?

Lastly, I want to attribute my degree to my parents who traveled for over 20 hours to be in attendance today, fulfilling the promise they made to a crying 18-year-old me at the airport. I thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for all that I have today, including my sister who has shared this journey with me, sitting on this very stage behind me.

Congratulations, fellow graduates. This calls for celebration. May God be with you until we meet again.

I say all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Fourth Floor, Last Door," Ensign or Liahona, October 2016, 17.