At April’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, April 27, more than 6,800 students were honored for completing higher degrees at Brigham Young University.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encouraged the graduates to use their moral agency to contribute to their communities as they move forward.
“Agency has a moral dimension. When we choose in the light of, and in harmony with, moral truths, we reap redemption, peace, joy and eventually, eternal life,” he said.
Elder Christofferson emphasized that agency is a godly characteristic that is threatened today — by popular philosophies that deny the reality of moral agency and treat people only as victims, and at the same time, by societal conditions that hinder disadvantaged individuals in making good choices.
“My plea to you today is that you work hard to preserve and wisely exercise your own moral agency in the years ahead and to work equally hard to preserve and provide that same blessing of moral agency to others. Let us all be agents rather than objects.”
Elder Christofferson thanked BYU President Kevin J Worthen and Sister Peggy Worthen for their nine years of service to the university, as their tenure comes to an end. He noted that they have been an “exemplary model” for BYU students and those beyond the university as they’ve given speeches, attended student activities and hosted guests.
Elder Christofferson also described significant projects President Worthen oversaw as university president, including the Inspiring Learning initiative, the elevation of BYU athletics and major building and infrastructure improvements, among others. “We look back over the last nine years and honor you today for what your leadership has meant,” he told the Worthens.
President Worthen discussed what graduates might learn from the exclamation point, a punctuation mark that is prolific despite having many critics. He explained that anciently, librarians and teachers invented marks like the period, comma and exclamation point to signal where in a sentence a reader should pause or how a sentence should be read. President Worthen hoped the graduates would think about their BYU graduation whenever they saw an exclamation point, for three reasons.
First, just as punctuation marks create spaces within and between sentences, we should strive to create “sacred spaces” in our lives through habits like scripture study, prayer and contemplation, to “make sense of the sometimes seemingly chaotic events” surrounding us.
Second, President Worthen said, “I hope seeing an exclamation point will prompt you to look for ways to celebrate the good things that happen in your life and especially in the lives of others around you. The desire to enthusiastically express joy and admiration for the accomplishments of others is a divine trait, which we should all cultivate.”
Finally, the exclamation point, which has survived for centuries despite its detractors, symbolizes resilience: “the exclamation point can remind us that, as long as we have faith in Christ, the best is yet to come.”
Honorary Degree Recipient
Honorary doctorate recipient Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal discussed how a BYU education helps students strive for excellence in the public realm, in faith communities and among family and friends. True excellence, he asserted, is not only practical or useful — not merely possessing skills to earn money — but has moral and aesthetic dimensions as well.
“We are so blessed today to become part of the life and history of this amazing, world-class university with its distinguished and distinctive character. BYU models a rare and particular dimension of profound and exacting excellence, which stands back from conventional attitudes and judgments and explores the truth in all its wonder, beauty, complexity and unity. This university has in its spiritual DNA a commitment to divine excellence.”
BYU Alumni President
Hillary Nielsen, president of the BYU Alumni Association, reflected on the gratitude her father, a first-generation college student, felt for his BYU experience and how his education enabled him to become “an influencer for good,” serving his family and his patients. “BYU’s unique, spiritually infused education gave my father (and all of us) the chance, the space and the fuel to grow as disciples of Christ and children of God serving in this world.”
Enumerating how the BYU Alumni Association has sought to lift others in the past year, Nielsen encouraged the graduates to join with the association to also become influencers for good. “With ‘BYU alumni’ added to your list of identifiers, you will be a representative of BYU wherever you go and in whatever you do. It is my hope that you generously contribute your time, talent, and — whenever possible — treasure, as you actively seek opportunities to utilize your BYU education to benefit others.”
Undergraduate speaker Samuel Benson reminded the audience that in addition to being members of the BYU graduating class of 2023, they are also all members of Zion, a community “whose hearts are knit together in love.” Benson encouraged the graduates to continue focusing on others as they move forward.
“That is our mission — to not get caught up in the allures of the world, but to use the surplus of skills and talents and abilities we’ve developed at BYU to build Zion,” he said. “This Zion will be one of diversity and peace, one of ‘everlasting joy.’ And unlike many of the world’s other highly selective universities, which define their prestige in part by how many students they exclude each year, Zion defines itself in terms of inclusion, a mission to allow all to find belonging ‘without money and without price.’”