ST. GEORGE — Dixie State College's Class of 2011 represents a historic collection of graduates at Utah's southernmost four-year college. It was a century ago that the school — originally named St. George Stake Academy — was established.
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson wasn't around when the school's first class was called in session. But, he told graduates with a smile, "it is a little disturbing to realize that Dixie College had existed only 16 years when I was born.
"For that reason, I am confident that my 100 years' measurement is considerably shorter than yours."
Besides delivering the Centennial Commencement address, President Monson was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities during the afternoon ceremony at the school's Burns Arena.
Diplomas were awarded to more than 1,500 students, including just over 400 bachelor's degrees. The Class of 2011 counts graduates from several countries and more than 30 states. The oldest graduate was 72 — the youngest just 17.
President Monson's participation in the event served as a nod to the school's rich Mormon history. Dixie State was originally founded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 100 years ago.
In his address, the church leader spoke of three "bridges" that would help Dixie graduates safely cross the "deep and wide" chasms of life.
The first is the bridge of attitude.
"Attitude can make all the difference in our lives, and we control our attitude," he said. "It can make us miserable or happy, content or dissatisfied. To a great degree, it can make us strong or weak."
It was the philosopher William James who developed the "as if" principle: If you want a virtue, act as if you already have it. If you want to be brave, act as if your are brave. If you want to be happy, act happy.
"Change your attitude by trying the 'as if" principle — it can work for all of us."
The second bridge is the bridge of integrity.
In today's world, it might appear that no one is really honest, virtuous or honorable anymore, said President Monson. Some seem to get ahead in life as a result of deceit, through false promises or by cheating others. They may think they can get away with anything.
"Being true to oneself is anything but easy if the moral standards of one's associates conflict with his or her own," he said. "The herd instinct is strong in the human animal, and the phrase 'Everybody else is doing it' has an insidious attraction....
"Nothing takes more strength than swimming against the current. You, my friends, are strong and must at times decide to swim against that current."
President Monson counseled the graduates to refuse to do or say anything that would damage their self-respect. What is the point of fame and glory, he asked, "if, in the end, we can't look ourselves in the eye, knowing that we have been honest and true?"
The third and final bridge is the bridge of service.
"During your life you may achieve wealth or fame or social standing," he said. "Real success, however, comes from helping others."
All will have opportunities to serve.
"The blind and the handicapped need friendship; the aged are hungry for companionship; the young need understanding guidance; the gifted are starved for encouragement. These benefits can't be conferred by reaching for your checkbook. Personal service is direct and human."
President Monson added that one's personal service may not be dramatic, but it can bolster human spirits, clothe cold bodies, feed hungry people, comfort grieving hearts and lift precious souls to new heights.
"My young friends, your life will be fuller, richer and happier if you seek for and find opportunities to be of service."
Dixie State College president Stephen D. Nadauld conducted the ceremonies and offered closing remarks. Monte Holm, a St. George resident and an international businessman, also received an honorary doctorate.
Student speakers included associate degree recipient Jonathan Oglesby and college valedictorian Sabrina Hansen, who received a bachelor's degree.
The ceremony also included a school-produced film commemorating 100 years of Dixie College.