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Nearly 5,800 students were honored for their completion of higher degrees at the university April commencement and convocation ceremonies.

Scroll through photo highlights from the BYU Commencement ceremony

“Be Awful and Ameliorate”

President Kevin J. Worthen

President Kevin J. Worthen encouraged graduates to “be awful” and to “ameliorate,” two things he was confident graduates had not heard before.

President Kevin J Worthen
Photo Credit: 
BYU Photo

Words have changed meaning throughout centuries, President Worthen said. When a word’s meaning takes on a negative connotation, this is called pejoration. A word that gains a positive connotation goes through amelioration.

A familiar word that has been pejorated is “awful.” It used to mean awe-inspiring, worthy of respect and profoundly respectful or reverential, President Worthen said.

“My admonition is that you ‘be awful’ in its original, unpejorated sense, that you always be aware of things that are awe-inspiring.  I am urging you to be full of awe, if you will,” President Worthen said.

President Worthen cited research saying that those who feel awe are more likely to connect with others, be kind, feel satisfied in life and serve others. He reminded graduates of Moses’ vision, which exposed him to God’s grandeur. President Worthen hoped that graduates have had awe-inspiring moments as well during their time at BYU.

President Worthen advised graduates to be like little children, who experience awe because they frequently delight in their new discoveries. He also said to not let their education quench awful moments.

“[Do] not let your education diminish your willingness to experience awe for there is so much in the world around us that can cause us to be full of awe,” President Worthen said.

Along with his charge to be awful, President Worthen encouraged the BYU graduates to not pejorate, but to ameliorate.  He reminded graduates that they carry three important names with them: their own, BYU’s and (for some) Jesus Christ’s.  Through the graduates’ lives, these names should ameliorate. Others should think positively of these names because of their encounters with the graduates. Of ameliorating Jesus Christ’s name, President Worthen said:

“As we are filled with awe for Him and His works, as we act in accordance with the promptings we feel at such times, His name will not only ameliorate, but will eternally be glorified by what we do.”     


“Let’s Not Leave Johnny Behind”

Thomas Stone

Thomas Stone recounted lessons he, and the graduates, learned from his time at BYU: don’t give up, be exactly obedient, navigating through life is possible and lift and serve others .

Thomas Stone
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BYU Photo

While competing as a member of Team USA in the Triathlon Age Group World Championships, Stone witnessed how to lift another in need. Olympic medalists were competing in Cozumel, Mexico, for the $30,000 grand prize. As the athletes came upon the finish line, Jonathan Brownlee was in the lead with Alistair Brownlee trailing him and Henri Schoeman close behind. Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee are brothers.

With 500m left in the race, Jonathan Brownlee started to collapse. Instead of winning a gold championship, Alistair Brownlee ran to his brother, and helped him finish the race. Alistair Brownlee pushed his brother across the finish line before him.

Why did Alistair Brownlee give up so much to help his brother? “Mum wouldn't have been happy if I'd left Jonny behind,” Alistair Brownlee said.

Stone said that like the Brownlee brothers, BYU graduates will have the chance to help another who is falling. Sometimes that will merit a sacrifice.

“Our diplomas can serve as a reminder that ‘where much is given, much is required’ because some races are simply worth finishing together,” Stone said.


“A Few Secrets of Life”

Elder Bradley D. Foster

Elder Bradley D. Foster encouraged graduates to use their time in life to become who God wants them to be. To do this, Elder Foster offered a few guidelines to stay on the right track by not getting caught up in the world.

Elder Bradley D. Foster
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BYU Photo

The first secret to life: “The common denominator in both success and failure is that neither of these conditions is permanent,” Elder Foster said.  He advised graduates to stay close to the Lord during the hard times in life and the successful times. Following the gospel of Jesus Christ will ensure that we learn from opposition and that happiness in life remains permanent.

The second secret to life: Know your relationship to God, recognize other’s relationships to Him and treat people accordingly.  Elder Foster shared a story of parents watching their handicapped children compete in a race. During the race, one child fell and cried. The other children heard him crying and returned to help him. They helped him up and finished the race together, all holding hands.

“The parents thought self-esteem would come from winning, but they learned that self-esteem comes from doing esteemable things every day,” Elder Foster said.

The third secret to life: “Remember that a distraction doesn’t have to be evil to be effective,” Elder Foster said.  He said that life is about contributing to others, not accumulating wealth or fame. Elder Foster taught this principle by recounting Job’s story. In Job’s life, he was blessed with wealth and respect. But Job was not respected for his wealth – he was respected because he helped others.

“Now, don’t be afraid you won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg of the world or the next Tom Brady or the next J.K. Rowling.  But here is what ought to scare you to death – that at the end of your life you won’t have become who you were supposed to have become while you were here,” Elder Foster said.   

Elder Foster closed his remarks with his hope that we all become more like Jesus Christ.


An Honorary Doctorate for Baroness Nicholson

Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne was awarded an honorary degree for her charity and humanitarian work across the Middle East.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
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BYU Photo

Sharing a bit of her story and how she became partners with the LDS Church's welfare organization, Baroness Nicholson spoke of a friend with whom she shared common interests and goals.

“I stand humbled to become one of your newest alumni at one of the most prestigious universities,” she said.

She shared a brief sketch of some of the humanitarian projects she has been a part of over her career and encouraged listeners to do what they can to make a difference in the lives of other people who have less. Building professions is key to that work, she said.

"To have intellectual strength we must accompany that with action."

The baroness invited listeners to count on her "as one of you" and encouraged them to call on her, ask questions and to build upon the common heritage of shared values and the "pursuit of freedom for all humanity."

"I remind us all that saving just one life … is worth all the effort we can put in," she said.