Elder and Sister Cook, President and Sister Kauwe, faculty, family, friends, and especially you graduates, Aloha!
Thank you to each of you at this university who serve these graduates with great commitment. And thank you to the faithful, quiet tithe-payers and donors who’ve contributed to help make today possible.
Graduates, Ho’omaika’i. That’s means congratulations. Congratulations on graduating with a double major and in so doing, joining an order of angels. Each of you has people who’ve believed in you, supported you, encouraged, and even prayed for you. And if you don’t think you have someone who’s been praying for you, then you don’t yet know President and Sister Kauwe. I assure you; their prayers include you every single day.
Graduating with a Double Major!
Do you remember when you decided to come to BYU–Hawaii and began to your application?
After deciding on a meal plan and hoping for great roommates, you had to select a major. Remember that day? Picking your major was hard. But then you settled in. You found a class you loved, a professor who captured your imagination. Most of you changed your major at least once. Picking a major took thought, conversations, and probably even some prayer.
But, and here’s the thing, you could have mastered creative writing or history or business math at other universities. Other universities also have great programs in biology or education.
Because of BYU–Hawaii’s uniqueness, you’re actually leaving as a double major. While you’ve studied education or physics or communications, there is another subject, which has become your second major, which you’ve also studied, and practiced, and become.
At his inauguration, President Kauwe spoke compellingly of BYU–Hawaii, and Laie as being places of refuge, of protection. The distinctive difference between this university and other universities—well, yeah, it’s beaches—but the unique and singular difference is BYU–Hawaii’s complete devotion to helping you become disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in your homes, the Church, and your communities.
Disciples of Jesus Christ
Come with me in your mind for a moment. Picture the last time you went to the beach early in the morning or in the evening. Perhaps you were with friends; there was probably some laughter as you walked and talked and played in the ocean. Other times you’ve gone by yourself, taken off your shoes, strolled barefoot in the sand, and just thought, perhaps even prayed a little. Remember those moments…when the ocean was calm, the breeze was gentle, the waves steadily and quietly swept away your footprints as you watched sand crabs scurry almost invisibly into their holes. Can you see in your memory the sun peeking over the morning horizon or disappearing quietly into the evening?
That memory will help you imagine this scene. Jesus was walking along another shore. He found Peter with his brother Andrew, and then he found James, who was with his brother John and their dad, and all of them were fishing. And Jesus said to them,
"Follow me….and they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." 1
Jesus has often chosen and called disciples near the water. These disciples near the Sea of Galilea, Alma’s people at the waters of Mormon, Joseph Smith at the Susquehanna River, and now each of you, on the campus of BYU–Hawaii, near these gorgeous beaches, and in the shadow of the Laie Hawaii Temple.
During your time here, you’ve surely found yourself walking to class in the McKay Building or walking back to your hale from a study session in the Smith Library. As you walked, you’ve had moments when you set aside worries and felt a growing sense of gratitude to study here. You’ve felt the spirit of the Lord in your English or intercultural peacebuilding class, you’ve felt prompted toward deeper discipleship of Jesus Christ, you’ve felt a renewed commitment to love Heavenly Father and follow Him more.
Those feelings are part of becoming a disciple. You’ve learned to observe when someone around you is hurting and needs your arm or smile of encouragement. You’ve learned to love and serve those who don’t look exactly like you do, who have accents different than yours, who like different foods, who have different customs, and you’ve learned to love, understand, and treat each other not merely with respect, but with kindness and mercy. The world desperately needs that kind of discipleship.
Joining an Order of Angels
President Nelson gave one of these commencement addresses a few years ago. He said,
“You have been jumping over educational high hurdles, all erected by other people. Now it is time for you to define your … own expectations. From now on, you decide! Instead of concentrating on what you are to do, now is the time to zero in on who you are to be—on that person you are yet to become…life will not be comfortable for true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we will have His approval…Your religion is not just about showing up for church on Sunday. It is about showing up as a true disciple from Sunday morning through Saturday night—24/7! There is no such thing as a “part-time” disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2
Other prophets and apostles have asked the same thing of us. They’ve told us we
“must practice virtue in its largest sense. Of the many definitions of virtue… [there is another] definition in theology. Virtue in theology is an order of the angels. You cannot become great [men and] women if you are not also good [men and] women. You will become great [men and] women if you join an order of angels.” 3
We join that order by loving God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and then by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. I hope this principle lodges in your soul, as it first lodged in mine when I heard Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles say, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will, in the end, make no difference what you have chosen instead.” 4
And so, today is your commencement. In just a few moments you’ll be outside celebrating with family and friends immersed in laughter and music and leis piled so high we can’t see your smiles. And then, tomorrow morning will come. Remember, as a double major, as a graduate of BYU–Hawaii, and as someone who chooses to be a disciple of the Lord, Jesus Christ, today, here, now, you have joined an order of the angels.
There will come a day when everyone around us also learns the Truth, and at that day “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess,” 5 that Jesus is the Christ. Elder Maxwell asked, “And, if you sense that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, why not do so now? For in the coming of that collective confession, it will mean much less to kneel down when it is no longer possible to stand up!” 6
And so, I join you in committing to and testifying that Jesus is the Christ. You and I both testify that following Him is the only way to solve the ills of the world and to be truly happy. I congratulate you on both of your majors! As you now set out to lift your families, the Church, and your communities, don’t be afraid. The Savior will help you.
In the name of Him who all within the order of angels worship with perfect confidence, even Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Matthew 4:18-23.
2. President Russell M. Nelson, Disciples of Jesus Christ-Defenders of Marriage, BYU Commencement, August 14, 2014.
3. President James E. Faust, A Message to Our Granddaughters, BYU Devotional, February 12, 1985.
4. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Response to a Call, General Conference, April 1974 quoting William Law, GET Citation.
5. Mosiah 27:31.
6. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Why Not Now?, General Conference, October 1974; see also, C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1996), pp. 65–66.