President Kauwe, Elder Cordón, distinguished guests, family, and graduates, Aloha mai kakou! I am John Kenneth Agustin Lidang, from Isabela, Philippines. I feel humbled to address you this morning. My hope for today is to share my story, to encourage you to pursue your dreams and remind you that anything is possible.
About ten years ago, I packed my bags to leave my home to come to America. Little did I know that was the last time I would see the Philippines. When you leave a place, there is an indescribable feeling of losing a part of you and everything you’ve known all your life: friends, memories, and identity. This has been common in my life- leaving someplace to go to another. Many of us leave home to serve missions, leave our families to work, and like most of us, leave our countries to gain an education. Through my experience, I’ve learned that life is never a standstill but it’s one of progression. Now, we leave again for our next destination. It’s different for each of us, but our purpose is the same, to go forth and serve. We leave a different person than who we came as. Although we are unsure of what’s on the other side, I assure you that where we go and how we do it is determined not by circumstance but by our faith in God and our willingness to work.
This great achievement, to graduate from this sacred university, was often challenging. There were moments when I wanted to give up, when I couldn’t see or feel the road before me. Where people made fun of the way I sounded or that because I was small, I could only do the small things. But I look back and think that I wouldn’t change a thing for one simple reason: those difficult moments strengthened my roots and made my foundation firm. My story is not different from yours. It is what we do in those moments that matter. It wasn’t easy, but we saw it through. These experiences have prepared us to face what’s ahead. Have you noticed the flag circle on our campus and the dozens of nations represented there? For me, each flag represents a person and a story of inspiration. These flags have inspired me with a goal to meet people from each of those countries. I accomplished that goal. What I’ve discovered through this experience changed me forever. Their stories taught me that first, the relationships we build are eternal. We need each other. I am thankful to you who’ve been there for me when I needed you. Second, we can see beauty in people, places, and in the simple things. This is the Savior’s miracle. Third, we change the world one by one, beginning with ourselves. I’ve also learned that there are more things that unite us than divide us. We are like those flags that fly proudly in the wind, steadfast, determined, and a beacon of hope. Now is our time to shine the light that we’ve received. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our nations to be an influence for good wherever our feet touch.
As a child my mother taught me a Filipino proverb to always remember, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan,” which equates to, “A person who does not learn to look back to where they came from, will never reach their destination.” Let us never forget where it all began and where we come from. As we move from this chapter of our lives, let us remember how generous the Lord has been to us for giving us our families, education, teachers, and mentors, to whose shoulders we stand on. To my Mama and Papa, who’ve sacrificed so much, thank you. This is for you!
My fellow graduates, as we turn our tassels, we do so not only for ourselves but for our people, our countries, our dreams, and our God. What we have accomplished here today is monumental and a testament to what we can do. I am humbled to think that I arrived at this place with nothing; now, I leave again, but with more than my heart can carry. I don’t think I can ever thank my God enough for this. I want us all to remember how far we’ve come and that the only direction from here is onward and upward. Congratulations to all my fellow graduates. Let us walk proudly and leave a legacy of faith for future generations.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.