Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
December 14, 2013
Elder Neil L. Andersen
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Aloha! Mele Kalikimaka!
As you may know, my wife, Kathy, and I are here with you on assignment from the First Presidency. It has been snowing or less than 20 degrees for most of the past 10 days in Salt Lake City, and I want to boldly compliment the judgment of the First Presidency in their decision to send us to Hawaii. We are very happy to be with you.
Graduation exercises are often called “Commencement” meaning a beginning. When I graduated from Brigham Young University–Provo in 1975, I remember thinking how unusual that they would call it a beginning.
I had begun my university studies nearly six years before my graduation. For years, I had lived in overcrowded dormitories and run-down houses, cleaned the toilets in the library and washed outside windows in the wintertime to pay tuition, and ate mostly canned soup and cheese sandwiches. There had been a two-year interval for my mission to France. And then there were all those classes that took years off my life: Latin, statistics, quantitative economics. And if the classes were not enough, I had, for the most part, been rejected and ignored by the young women of the university as I pursued finding an eternal companion.
Finally, in the spring of 1975, five and a half years after beginning, I had passed my classes, paid my bills, and, only one month before graduation, married the beautiful and amazing Kathy Williams. I was finally finished. I was tired. How could they call it “Commencement?” Maybe you feel the same way.
At my commencement in the spring of 1975, I was 23 years old. More than 38 years have passed, and we are hopeful that there are more years left to come. They were right. It was our commencement. We were just getting started.
I congratulate you for who you are and what you have accomplished. You are part of a divine prophesy. More than 50 years ago, a prophet of God, David O. McKay, spoke of you. He declared that you who were to graduate from this university would be men and women of influence, leaders who would return to many countries. He spoke of your character—that you would scorn the idea of violating truth, that your hearts would be of genuine gold.1 I salute you as ones fulfilling that marvelous prophesy. On behalf of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, I openly say we love you, and we are proud of you.
Last evening as we arrived, President Wheelwright shared his vision of BYU–Hawaii with us. He shared three words: Learn. Lead. Build. With your graduation, I want to add two more: Press forward.
This is our mortality; we are on a mission. This is not our permanent home. We are here to be part of a family, to learn to live by faith, to help others, to build the kingdom of God, and to develop eternal qualities as sons and daughters of God. While here, we are to advance. There is no neutral ground in the choices between good and evil. We may pause at times to catch our breath or strengthen our resolve, but our movement must be forward, constantly advancing. We have much to accomplish. Developing spiritual strength doesn’t come from leaning back; it comes from pressing forward, constantly seeking more light and knowledge from heaven. In my undergraduate days, I memorized this saying: “On the plains of hesitation are bleached the bones of countless thousands who, at the Dawn of Victory, stopped to rest, and resting, died.”2
Learn. Lead. Build.
We cannot rest. Press forward.
Press forward implies to me something more than simply going forward. Press implies something is preventing your advancement, and you must push through it. To go forward in this life you must press temptations aside, press through obstacles, press the doubt and the fear under your feet, and embrace the divine qualities of faith, hope, and love. Learn. Lead. Build. Press forward.
In the scriptures, the words “press forward” are found only in the Book of Mormon. Nephi said that those reaching out for the iron rod were “pressing forward.”3
The closest phrase to “press forward” in the Bible is spoken by the Apostle Paul: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of God’s calling through Christ Jesus.”4
How do you press forward? Nephi answers, “Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”5
Your education at BYU–Hawaii has prepared you to press forward as Nephi described. In 1876, before there was BYU–Hawaii, before there was BYU–Provo, Brigham Young met with Karl G. Maeser who was to be responsible for Brigham Young Academy and charged him “that [he] ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”6
This is how you have been taught.
I have heard President Wheelwright refer to one of his favorite scriptures. It is also a favorite of President Monson. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”7
This is how you have been taught.
You now prepare to step out into a very large world. Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and love of God and of all men.
Pressing forward with steadfastness in Christ means having faith in Him. It means making Him the central focus of your thoughts and actions. When it is He you are following, pressing forward is the ultimate adventure.
Jesus taught us how to have faith in Him. “My Father,” He said, “is the husbandman. … I am the vine, [and] ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”8
Pressing forward means pushing away the “temptations and cares” of the world and keeping the commandments with exactness. “If ye love me,” Jesus said, “keep my commandments.”9 Let me give you an example. I have heard President Monson tell returning missionaries that as they are totally honest in paying their tithing, they will always keep the loyalty and love they have for the restored gospel. This is counsel I share with you today. Keeping the commandments brings the loyalty and love. We keep the commandments first, and with our obedience comes the spiritual confirmations.
Nephi adds that with our steadfastness in Christ comes a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men. Hope smiles brightly before us. We find peace even in difficulties. Discipleship allows us to see our true purposes on the earth. Those purposes center in helping our family, those we love, and those around us. They include building the kingdom of God, and as we do, we become who we should become. Jesus said, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”10
I learned from President Wheelwright that of the 247 graduates here today, 104 have served missions. This is a worthy goal and a noble consideration for others in this graduating class.
Let me give you an example from two friends of mine who attended and graduated from BYU–Hawaii.
This is Peter Xie. When he joined the Church as a Chinese citizen working in Cambodia, he was already 25 years old. It wasn’t until he came to BYU–Hawaii two years later that he considered a mission. His desire to serve was confirmed with prayer, and he wrote the First Presidency asking for permission to serve, as he was beyond the age for a young man to serve. On his 30th birthday, he was a missionary in New York City.
This is Eugenia Chu. After thoughtful prayer, she transferred to BYU–Hawaii from BYU–Provo during her junior year. Although her parents came from Hong Kong, she was born and raised in the United States, knew few Asians, and did not speak Cantonese. While only a few blocks away from here in the temple performing baptisms, she felt a powerful impression that she was to serve a mission. She was called to serve in Hong Kong, where she taught the gospel and learned the Chinese culture and language.
If you haven’t served a mission and are single, pray about your future. Talk with your bishop. A mission prepares you for a life of pressing forward.
I learned from President Wheelwright that of the 247 graduating, 84 of you are married. We press forward, pursuing a righteous marriage if possible.
Peter met Eugenia in January 2010. Both had recently returned from their missions and were in their final months at BYU–Hawaii. Peter immediately fell in love with Eugenia. For Eugenia, it didn’t happen quite so fast. While she had the strong impression that she was to marry Peter, she prayed that the Lord would help her fall in love with him.
The Lord answered her prayer, and they were married on June 18, 2010, two months after their graduation.
Finding the right person to marry is not always easy. Not everyone here will marry. You men have a responsibility to initiate relationships that will lead to friendship and eventually to trust and love. In many cultures, men hesitate until they are established in a profession. The Lord’s way is to press forward in faith, even before you have all the answers.
A young man, a senior at a university, recently spoke to me about the failure of his dating efforts. He told me that he finds many first dates but rarely do they accept second invitations.
“Do the girls you date date a lot of other men?” I asked him.
“They do,” he replied.
“That is your problem,” I explained. “Invite those who are not always asked, and the success of your second invitations will increase.”
My dear sisters, you have a responsibility as well. Press forward creating friendships, nurturing relationships that may lead to marriage, and praying for direction. Fill your life with meaningful work, continuing education, service to others, and personal righteousness. Even if you marry later in your life or if you do not marry, your life can be happy, satisfying, and successful. As you are righteous, no blessing will be denied you in the eternities.
President Wheelwright reports that of those 84 in our graduating class who are married, 50 have children. I see some of those beautiful children here today.
In a talk I gave in General Conference in October 2011, I gave this counsel to married couples:
“The first commandment that God gave Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”11
“When to have a child and how many children to have are private decisions to be made between a husband and wife and the Lord. These are sacred decisions—decisions that should be made with sincere prayer and acted on with great faith.”12
Following the talk, I received dozens and dozens of letters of appreciation, and just a few months later came scores of pictures of beautiful children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord.”13 Do not wait until you are settled professionally, financially, and socially. Children will put life in its correct perspective, and bring you great joy.
Here are Peter and Eugenia with their daughter Perina, born while they were very poor graduate students. They are expecting a second baby next April.
Peter and Eugenia are currently living in Dallas, working for an international company, and serving in the Chinese branch, preparing themselves for the time they can return to mainland China. Their desire is to be a light to those of that great country. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”14
It doesn’t matter if your light shines in China, Tonga, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Taiwan, Vanuatu, or the United States. As your light shines, it will glorify your Father in Heaven.
One more thought: Nephi tells us that we must press forward feasting upon the words of Christ. He tells us that with the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can speak [and understand] the tongue of angels. Because, he says, angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. He then adds that the words of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost will “tell you” and “show unto you all things what ye should do.”15 I know this voice. It is a voice we must continually be ready to hear.
Press forward in righteousness.
Press forward in faith.
I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He has restored His Kingdom upon the earth. He guides this holy work. As His servant and in the authority of the Holy Apostleship, I invoke a blessing upon you, the graduates. As you righteously press forward, He “will lead you along,”16 and you will know with even greater certainty of His reality and His love for you. As you press forward in faith, the Holy Ghost will tell you and show you those things that you should do. I so testify, and leave you my witness that these things are true, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. David O. McKay, Groundbreaking Address, February 12, 1955.
2. See George W. Cecil (1891-1970), The American Magazine, March 1923, p. 87.
3. 1 Nephi 8:24, 30.
4. Philippians 3:13-14.
5. 2 Nephi 31:20.
6. Brigham Young, quoted in Reinhard Maeser, Karl G. Maeser: A Biography (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1928), 79; see also Karl G. Maeser, “History of the Academy,” address delivered on 16 October 1891 at Brigham Young Academy’s first Founders Day exercises, in Karl G. Maeser: A Biography, 130; see also reprinted version in John W. Welch and Don E. Norton, eds., Educating Zion (Provo: BYU Studies, 1996), 4.
7. Proverbs 3:5-6; BYU Speeches, 2009 Speeches, 26 May 2009.
8. John 15:1,5.
9. John 14:15.
10. Matthew 20:26-27.
11. The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
12. Andersen, Neil L., “Children,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2011.
13. Psalms 127:3.
14. Matthew 5:14-16.
15. 2 Nephi 32:3,5.
16. Doctrine and Covenants 78:18.