BYU–Hawaii Commencement Remarks
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
December 14, 2013
Elder Paul V. Johnson
Quorum of the Seventy
Commissioner of the Church Education System
I add my words of congratulations to you who are graduating today. This day marks an important milestone in your lives. I thank all others who have made this day possible, including family members, those who work so diligently at the university, and generous donors and the faithful tithe payers of the Church that make it possible to operate this university. I hope all of you graduates and your families have a great day today and celebrate this accomplishment. Take pictures so you have a record of what this day was like.
We took pictures when we graduated all those years ago, but those pictures were on something called “film” that you loaded into a camera and then had to send out to get developed before you could see how they turned out. Times have changed. After these proceedings, thousands of photos will be taken on cameras and phones, and many will be viewed in different parts of the world by the end of the day.
The Oxford University Press finds a word that has generated a lot of interest every year and designates it as Word of the Year. The Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2013 is “selfie.” A selfie is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”1 A Boston Globe editorial referred to selfies as “The perfect blend of narcissism and social media.”2
More and more individuals in our society seem to focus on themselves. I don’t know if the rise of selfies is indicative of that trend, but when we spend our time focusing on ourselves or having others focus on us, we lose focus on things that matter most. It may seem counterintuitive, but our spiritual growth is accelerated when we focus on others rather than ourselves. When we get too self-absorbed, we stunt our spiritual growth.
You face important decisions at this point in your lives. It is a time when you feel a strong need for the Lord’s guidance. If we are facing a decision and stay too focused on ourselves, we actually impede revelation. Service to others increases our chance for revelation. Think of the inspiration and growth a person experiences as a missionary. Her focus is on others—investigators, companions, members of the Church—and inspiration comes, and it isn’t just inspiration or revelation about others. Many times when we are serving others, the Lord reveals to us important information on personal matters.
When Alma had been rejected in Ammonihah, he was weighed down with sorrow, but he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. He wasn’t focused on himself. He was sorrowful because of the wickedness of the people. He was thinking of them when an angel came to him with instruction about the next steps in his service but also with a personal message to Alma. It was a message about his standing with the Lord. The angel said, “Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him.”3 What a relief that must have been to a person who had just been rejected by the people he was supposed to teach, to find out that the Lord was pleased with his service.
The temple is a place of revelation. There are several reasons it is a place so conducive to receiving inspiration. One of the reasons we don’t often consider is that it is a place of service. People in the temple are there to serve others. Each time we attend as proxy for someone, we are engaged in selfless service.
In this past General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott taught of another important blessing associated with serving others. He said, “As you lose your life in the service of Father in Heaven’s children, Satan’s temptations lose power in your life.”4 That is a blessing we all desire.
It is crucial that we continue to serve throughout our lives. Even when it seems we have many demands on us, maybe especially then, we can still seek to serve others. A few years ago, Elder Neil L. Andersen paid a surprise visit to me in my office. He had heard that there were some health challenges members of my family were facing and decided to visit with me and offer any kind of personal help we might want. He spent a considerable amount of time with me and was very compassionate. He must have had tremendous pressures and tasks as a relatively new member of the Quorum of the Twelve, but that was not apparent in our visit. He was focused on me and my family, not on himself.
As you go forward from this commencement, determine to serve others. Serve your family. Serve your neighbors. Serve in the Church. Serve your community. Serve your nation. Serve your God. Our real success and growth as individuals is dependent on how we reach out to help others. As we serve others, we become more like the Savior. His was the life of perfect service. He didn’t focus on himself but on everyone else.
May the Lord’s bounteous blessings be with you as you use all you have learned and all you have become to serve His children.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
2. ‘Selfie’ as word of the year: Look at me, OED!, Boston Globe, December 10, 2013, online.
3. Alma 8:15
4. Richard G. Scott. "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." Ensign, November 2013: p.84.