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April 2021 Commencement: Built with gratitude on a firm foundation

The April commencement ceremony honored BYU graduates of the 2020–21 academic year and conferred 6,742 degrees. The proceedings were broadcast from the Marriott Center to graduates and their loved ones around the world.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed gratitude for “the firm foundation on which BYU is founded and the firm foundation BYU helps us establish for our lives.”

2021 Commencement Elder Gong
Elder Gerrit Gong, the featured commencement speaker, instructed graduating students, "It is always timely to give back and give forward, for yourself, for those who expect something more of a BYU graduate, in leadership, service and gospel example."

Describing that foundation, he congratulated the graduates on unique areas of achievement from their time at BYU: their participation in research, internships and study abroad, ambitious plans for the future, fulfillment of church callings and their employment in campus jobs during their studies. He noted that about 12% of the graduates are first-generation university students, and he praised this year’s students for adapting admirably to challenging times.

Elder Gong counseled the graduates to “seek every opportunity to improve and do better” to build on their BYU foundation. “Please continue to be good, so you can do the most good, whatever your circumstance, wherever you are.”

BYU president Kevin J Worthen commended graduates for their resiliency in a tumultuous school year and noted that the ability of BYU graduates to persevere was “mainly due to the material with which you are made – your identity, your character and the skills and talents you have acquired and refined during your time at BYU.”

Referencing a popular 1960s toy–the super ball–President Worthen explained that the ball was wildly popular because of its extreme rebound ability. The bounciness of the ball was the result of the materials of which it was made: a synthetic rubber formed under thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch.

“Like the super ball, part of your resilience and durability is the result of the challenges you have faced, especially this past year,” he said. “While extreme pressure and temperature are never pleasant, they can be formative and strengthening.”

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President Kevin Worthen qualified each graduating student as "super," because they were resilient, durable and adaptable throughout a global pandemic.

Reflecting on the BYU mission statement, he invited graduates to do three things:

  • List experiences that you have had this past year that have increased your ability to meet challenges and changes in your life. 
  • Look for ways to use the skills, talents and knowledge you have gained and refined at BYU to benefit others.
  • Recognize that true strength, resilience, durability, adaptability and every other good gift comes from God and that our ability to develop and use those gifts is enhanced as we follow the example of His son, Jesus Christ. 

Marthanial “Marcus” Roberts, a talented jazz pianist and musician, accepted an honorary doctorate degree of civic engagement through music. Hailed as the “genius of modern piano,” Roberts’ recordings range from solo piano to large ensembles and symphony orchestras. Although unable to attend the ceremony in the Marriott Center, Roberts accepted the degree previously and recorded a message.

“Music is a language that speaks to everyone; it’s universal. Its healing power is expressed by people in every country in the world,” he said. “One thing I know for sure is that, for the rest of my days, I will share my musical gift to bring joy, peace and inspiration to others.”

Undergraduate speaker Alyssa Baer encouraged her fellow graduates to focus not only on what they will do after their time at BYU but also on who they will become. She spoke of becoming “lifelong learners” by “having the courage to listen and learn from the experiences of those around us, finding innovative and sustainable solutions to social problems, advocating for change and committing to bettering our workplaces, graduate programs, communities, families—and perhaps most importantly—ourselves.”

Karen Bybee, president of the BYU Alumni Association, welcomed graduates to the association and encouraged the graduating class to go forward in faith.

“The world needs you. It needs the lessons you’ve learned both inside and outside the classroom during this memorable year,” she said. “Your education, combined with the inspired learning, relationships, spiritual impressions and service opportunities you’ve experienced while here at BYU, have all helped to shape who you are and who you will become.”

Elder Gong concluded, “Among all the things a BYU degree represents, we pray you truly go forth spiritually strengthened, intellectually enlarged, an individual of character committed to lifelong learning and service.”

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