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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Students walk during the academic procession during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo Thursday, April 21, 2016.

Although Alma Borshein felt excitement to be donning a cap and gown for the second time for graduation, she couldn’t help but also feel relief. The last three years “have been a roller coaster,” she said. “It’s been difficult and challenging but also the most worthwhile learning experience I’ve ever had.”

Borshein, who received her juris doctorate during BYU’s commencement exercises Thursday, was one of 5,929 students from 10 colleges to receive degrees as part of the class of April 2016.

Now that she's graduated, Borshein said she not only feels grateful for her experiences at BYU but empowered.

"It gives me a chance to use my degree to help others. As an attorney, I get to be an advocate for others in a way that nobody else can be. It’s really life changing."

For Kristi Johnson, who was one of the 688 to receive a master’s degree, the connection she created to the university during her undergraduate work influenced her desire to pursue her graduate studies.

“The reason why I did it is because BYU provided a really good program and had professors that were very eager to help and get me where I needed to be. I loved it here and wanted to keep being here,” Johnson said.

In his keynote address during ceremonies held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mentioned the connection graduates now have with their alma mater.

“I believe you now have a duty to stay connected to BYU,” he said. “The alumni association's motto is ‘Connected for Good.’ Your education enables you to help BYU go forward in good ways.”

Elder Clayton focused his remarks on the importance of “getting and staying connected” and spoke of the interpersonal connections of value to graduates, including their relationship with parents, grandparents and family.

“We hope that you will thank them, especially by the way you live,” he said.

Elder Clayton told graduates that no degree or academic distinction will be more valuable than their connection to their spouse. “If you will each pay the price of becoming devoted to heaven and each other as God intends, then your connection will be the flower and fruit of your lives.”

Some students have also become parents as they have pursued their education, he noted. “Your children are connected to you and you to them in ways parents have to experience to understand,” he said, adding that the graduates’ education has “expanded your capacity to offer your children an opportunity to thrive in this life.”

Elder Clayton expressed his hope for graduates to stay connected to classmates, friends and professors from BYU. “These connections will circle around over the years to bless and help you in happy, righteous ways.”

The connection that matters most, Elder Clayton said, is the one shared with God. “Whatever we do that may tend to weaken our connection — our binding — with heaven should be assessed with wariness. Everything we do that tends to reinforce faith and promotes keeping our covenants should be embraced. Our connection with heaven is the most valuable blessing we have and the most important one we can secure. It strengthens every other worthy connection in our lives.”

In his remarks, BYU President Kevin J Worthen spoke of how graduation is both a time to celebrate and to calibrate — a time to look backward and forward.

"As we celebrate your past accomplishments and look forward to your future, I urge you to view things from an eternal perspective — in the light of God's great plan of salvation. As you do so, your past, present and future will be more meaningful, more fruitful and more joyful."

During the commencement ceremonies, Ambassador Su Ge was awarded an honorary doctorate degree — the highest honor the university can grant. Ambassador Ge was the first student from the People’s Republic of China following the 1979 normalization of U.S.–China diplomatic relations to receive a BYU scholarship. While at BYU he completed a graduate degree in American studies and a Ph.D. in American history.

Other speakers at the event included graduate Alicia Kristine Stanton; Amy Fennegan, president of the BYU Alumni Association; and Ge. A musical number was provided by the BYU Singers.

rsterzer@deseretnews.com