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Through Truth, Strength

My dear graduates: Aloha!

Jill and I are thrilled to be with you for your graduation and this commencement ceremony, even if we are an ocean away and meeting in conditions unexpected even a year ago. How I wish we could be together at this remarkable occasion. Let me begin: Congratulations to the distinguished graduates of the class of 2021! You have proven that you are adjustable, adaptable and exceptional. Like Paul to Timothy: “[You] have fought the good fight, [you] have finished the course, [you] have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for [you] a crown”[1] or today, a degree!

I hope you will remember this day with fondness. I also congratulate another group today who deserve our gratitude and special mention: the heroes and heroines in spouses, parents, and family who saw in you your potential, and, in many cases, made possible by a personal sacrifice just for you.

There are also treasured mentors, the gifted faculty and the exceptional individuals in the administration at this outstanding university, who yet continue to provide excellent instruction and maintain the high standards known of this institution; I thank you all.

This university, like others in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is supported by the tithing-faithful members throughout the world, whose contributions through faith and obedience bless so many.

Commencement celebrates something more significant than just receiving a degree. The word “commencement” is derived from a 13th century French word meaning “begin to be . . . coming into existence . . . to enter into a new state.” Where graduation itself focuses on the degree, commencement is to mark a new beginning where you will access the privileges and rights of that degree you earned. I now pray for the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you.

Start right, stay right. “Choose ye this day”[2] to be centered on the covenant path with every step forward and you shall not fail. You have been cloistered in the “mothership”. Leaving the nest, you are taking flight into the future. You are definitely unique: nobody else like you; nobody else on this planet exactly like you. Nobody has your exact memory, knowledge, stories, trials and triumphs, your integrity or character. But it has never been just about who you are right now, unique as you are, but more importantly about who you are becoming. Are your wings strong enough? “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because its trust is not on the branch but on its own wings”.[3]

While these are exceptional times now, they may become “ordinary” in your coming future. This new normal may be prologue to even more challenging “new normals”, each one with potential seismic impact upon you and your plans. As it teaches in Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”[4]

You will need to build and develop spiritual resilience upon a firm foundation now.

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men [and women] build they cannot fall.[5]

Your distinguished University President, John S.K. Kauwe III, and I were both blessed to have attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The Latin motto for the university is: “Per Veritatem Vis”, “through truth, strength”.

No doubt, while truth is truth, some truths are more penetrating and powerful than others. As part of God’s covenant people, you are bound to the Savior through eternal truths, ordinances and covenants that will continue to bless you with a celestial vision while living in a telestial world.

In September 2019, President Russell M. Nelson delivered a BYU-Provo Devotional where he centered his remarks on five eternal truths:

  1. You are sons and daughters of God.
  2. Truth is truth.
  3. God loves every one of us with perfect love.
  4. The Lord Jesus Christ, whose Church this is, appoints prophets and apostles to communicate His love and teach His laws.
  5. You may know for yourself what is true and what is not by learning to discern the whisperings of the Spirit.

The importance and durability of what is truth, is described in a hymn that I have loved since a teenager; it begins with a question:

"Oh say, what is truth?

’Tis the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce,

And priceless the value of truth will be when the proud monarch’s costliest diadem is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth? ’

Tis the brightest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.

Go search in the depths where it glittering lies or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies: ’Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp when with winds of stern justice he copes.

But the pillar of truth will endure to the last and its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast and the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.

Then say, what is truth?

’Tis the last and the first for the limits of time it steps o’er.

Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal, unchanged, evermore."[6]

The Lord has taught in this dispensation:

“For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light”.[7]

You will see the interwoven and refining relationships of intelligence, wisdom, truth, virtue, and light throughout your life, if you seek to live in their neighborhood. God’s love and His laws are not only eternal, but eternally applicable. By living your life so that it invites the Holy Ghost as your constant companion, he will affirm what is truth and what is not.

Situational ethics, the belief that all truths are relative and there few moral absolutes –

what is right and what is wrong are determined by flexible, movable goalposts– will, if not recognized for what they are, create a moral environment with indistinguishable shades of gray deceit. Someone has said: “A wrong deed is right- if the majority of people declare it not to be wrong.” This reductionistic approach will neither stand the test of time nor of truth.

Satan’s ploy is the art of substitution and distraction, enticing those who will listen to “call evil good, and good evil."[8]To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”[9] As you continue to obey and keep the commandments and “walk in the ordinances of the Lord,”[10] you will be guided and protected by the Holy Ghost from Satan’s ongoing deception.

There must needs be opposition in all things[11] and not a single life can avoid it. At a time in your lives where you are potentially vulnerable to a darkened world in commotion, I promise, as you place spiritual things first, to faithfully maintain a current temple recommend, you will sustain the needed light of your moral compass. In each decision possible, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”[12]

President Russell M. Nelson, early after he was sustained as an apostle, precisely stated truth, “We must gain learning, but we must apply it wisely. Otherwise, we have politics without principle,industry without morality, knowledge without wisdom, science without humanity!”[13]

As Elder Henry B. Eyring described: (quote) “Your life is carefully watched over, as was mine. The Lord knows both what He will need you to do and what you will need to know. He is kind and He is all-knowing. So you can with confidence expect that He has prepared opportunities for you to learn in preparation for the service you will give. You will not recognize those opportunities perfectly. . . But when you put the spiritual things first in your life, you will be blessed to feel directed toward certain learning, and you will be motivated to work harder.

"You will recognize later that your power to serve was increased, and you will be grateful.”[14]

As President Nelson has taught, “Difficult trials offer opportunities to grow that could not come any other way.”[15] (end of quote) In my life, there were plans, hopes and dreams, but then along comes reality “the difficult trials”. A university studies major seemed like the most direct pathway to reach my dreams, including medicine. However, it was not to be on my timing. In the parlance of The Princess Bride, “Get used to disappointment.”[16]

We married and were blessed with a wonderful son when our future was placed in a state of flux as medical school options evaporated . With only hope smiling brightly before us, we did the next best thing: dental school on the east coast. We were grateful, come what may.

A year later, opportunity knocked and our lives changed again, traveling west to enter medical school as a non-resident and a delightful second son joined our little caravan.

After two years there, we were blessed beyond expectation to conclude my final two years and graduate from Washington University in St. Louis, WashU, adding a beautiful daughter to our family along the way. We remained in St. Louis five more years for an exceptional surgical residency.

As you go forward from the joy of this day, I would press upon you the following eternal and gospel truths I have learned:

  1. Covenants: There is a power in ordinances and covenants; honoring and keeping them is absolutely predictive of your final destination. Maintain all covenant relationships as though your life depended on it; your eternal life will.  Access the enabling power of the grace of Christ through obedience. Stand often in Holy Places. 
  2. With daily determination, stay close to the Lord and the Holy Ghost through prayer and scriptures.  President Spencer W. Kimball insightfully noted, “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”[17]
  3. Wickedness will never bring happiness.  In truth, God’s love alone cannot remove the eternal consequences of sin.   Only faith, repentance, and your obedience to God’s commandments can activate that cleansing and redeeming power of Christ’s infinite Atonement for you. “It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent”[18]. 

Heavenly Father intervened in so many critical points in the algorithm of my life as it played out. Looking back, I would not have traded places with anyone else, especially with my sweetheart at my side with our children. Trials and set-backs are a part of this life. You can do the hard thing. You may only connect the dots and His hand in your life looking backwards. He was always there. “And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[19]

May God bless you graduates to “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men. . . let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.”[20]

I pray the Lord will bless you throughout your life, that your memories of BYU–Hawaii will bring to your mind in the years to come, the blessing of increasing knowledge and truth that is uniquely coupled with developing an unshakable testimony of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. “Per Veritatem Vis”, “through truth, strength”. There is an enduring strength in God’s eternal truths.

I bear witness of the work in which we are engaged, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ and that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days. I know that President Russell M. Nelson is our living prophet today. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 2 Timothy 4:7-8

[2] Joshua 24:15

[3] Author unknown

[4] Ecclesiastes 1:9

[5] Helaman 5:12

[6] “Oh Say, What Is Truth?” Hymn, John Jacques, #272

[7] Doctrine and Covenants 88:40

[8] Isaiah 5:20

[9] 2 Nephi 9:29

[10] Doctrine and Covenants 136:4

[11] 2 Nephi 2:11

[12] Matthew 6:33

[13] Russell M. Nelson, "Protect the Spiritual Power Line," Ensign, Nov 1984, pp. 30-32

[14] Elder Henry B. Eyring, From a talk given on the 75th anniversary of the Institute of Religion program at a Church Educational System fireside in Moscow, Idaho, on 6 May 2001.

[15] Russell M. Nelson, General Conference, April 2021

[16] William Goldman, The Princess Bride

[17] Spencer W Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church, p 67

[18] Ezra Taft Benson, BYU Devotional, October 13, 1987

[19] Esther 4:19

[20] Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46