Commencement - Excellence and Character
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 12, 2014
Steven C. Wheelwright
At this long awaited and wonderful time of “commencement” in your life, Sister Wheelwright and I extend to you our congratulations and our love.
Today I want to talk about what lies ahead for you and two of the things we hope you will take with you as you depart from this special campus. Because we live in the dispensation of the fullness of times, you will have many wonderful opportunities and many unique challenges. With that future in mind, we have sought to prepare you to become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and to be learners, leaders, and builders in your home, your community, your profession, and in hastening the work of the Kingdom. Being a disciple is all about exercising your agency to act according to the principles of the gospel.
There are two of those principles that will help you realize the great promises a loving Father in Heaven has in store for you. I highlight these two principles because as I’ve reflected on my own graduation many decades ago, these two principles – learned as an undergraduate student – have made such a difference in our home, our community, my professional career, and our blessings in the kingdom. These are principles that those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators have stated are fundamental to the purposes of the Church Education System and BYU–Hawaii.
The first principle is that of excellence.
Excellence is about doing your best at all times, about setting a standard for all you do that is higher than that often found in the world around you. Achieving such excellence depends much more on consistency, focus, and hard work than it does on being brilliant. It requires discipline and commitment.
Talking about this principle, President Hinckley said,
“You don’t have to be a genius. You don’t have to be a straight-A student. You just have to do your very best with all the capability you have. … If you do that, God will open the way before you and the sun will shine, and your lives will be fruitful and you will accomplish great good in the world in which you take a part.” (“Dedication of Gordon B. Hinckley Building,” BYU-Idaho, October 2002.)
“Rise to the high ground of spiritual, mental, and physical excellence.” (“First Presidency Message: The Quest for Excellence,” Ensign, September 1999)
I testify that this is true. As President Hinckley said, excellence isn’t about genius. It is about doing your best and being worthy to receive the blessings of God. It is the consistency of action and the full application of your capabilities that create excellence.
Now let me offer a practical suggestion regarding this principle. Each day, make a commitment to put forward your best effort. Do not settle for anything less. As you do that, day after day, you will find your ability increasing and gradually those around you will take notice. New opportunities will open to you because people and organizations need and desire excellence, as does the Lord in building His kingdom.
The second principle I would like you to remember and take with you is that of character.
Character is the array of personal attributes that define your capacity to act according to what is true and right in all circumstances. Elder Richard G. Scott has taught that we build character when we decide and act with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He said,
“Faith will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is used. Character is woven patiently from threads of principle, doctrine, and obedience.” (“The Sustaining Power of Faith in Times of Uncertainty and Testing,” General Conference, April 2003.)
I testify that this is true. Building character is like building a house. If your house of character is to be strong, you must build it on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandments. Such character is based on a sound foundation of rock, like that described by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount.
The critical actions in building a house come long before the storms and the flood. So it is with character. It is built in the decisions and actions of everyday life. Character comes out of a consistency between what we say we believe and what we do. That is what it means to act with integrity. A strong and noble character is built through a life of integrity. This is what the Prophet David O. McKay had in mind when speaking of true education. He said,
“True education – the education for which the Church stands – is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and Godlike character” (In Conference Report, April 1968, p. 93).
“A man may possess a profound knowledge of history and of mathematics; he may be [an] authority in psychology, biology, or astronomy; … but if he has not with this knowledge that nobility of soul which prompts him to deal justly with his fellow men, to practice virtue and holiness in personal life, he is not a truly educated man.” (“Why Education,” Improvement Era, September 1967.)
“Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting.” (Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1953. 440-441.)
Such character is indeed the “education for eternity” so often referred to by President Kimball. Perhaps the best practical suggestion I can share related to character is the phrase so often repeated by President Benson: “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character – and our character will determine our eternal destiny” (“Think on Christ,” General Conference, March 1989).
We need to daily assess our thoughts and acts, strengthening those that are developing the aspects of character the Lord would desire and eliminating and replacing those that would detract from our becoming like Him.
Just as the Lord desires and needs a unique and special university, the Lord’s university needs graduates of excellence and character who can represent the Savior, His gospel, and His Kingdom in a manner consistent with His purposes and blessings.
Today, you become part of a worldwide brotherhood and sisterhood of alumni of this great university. As you continue to put the Savior and His teachings at the center of your life and in all you do, He will bestow great blessings – blessings beyond measure – on you and your posterity. May you feel of His love and divine guidance as you go forth on this next chapter in your life is our prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.