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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young University graduates Jenna Sessions (L) and Koryl Wadsworth wave to family during Summer Commencement exercises in Provo Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.

PROVO — As Jacqueline du Plessis stood outside of the Marriott Center on the Brigham Young University campus Thursday afternoon in a graduation cap and gown, a huge smile spread across her face. She did it. She finished something she started seven years previously.

"I've been through a lot of trials and experiences to get here, and now that I am here it is so surreal," she said. "It is a great way to end my seven years."

Although her parents — who live in South Africa — weren't able to attend the actual graduation ceremony, du Plessis expressed her gratitude to them as she spoke with her aunt, uncle and cousin who were in town from Wisconsin.

She is one of the 2,342 students who earned a degree in the most recent graduating class at BYU.

Almost thirty-one years ago to the day, the keynote speaker, Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understood what du Plessis felt Thursday afternoon, as he remembered sitting in the Marriott Center, wearing a cap and gown listening to his own graduation ceremony.

"I must confess that while I was sitting where you now sit, it never dawned on me that this transition would actually happen, or that it would come so quickly," he said.

In his address, Elder Christensen spoke of the importance of looking forward and thinking about how the small steps taken each day make a difference in ones ultimate happiness and accomplishment in the future.

"Everything we hope to accomplish in the future, how we prepare for the responsibilities that will ultimately be ours, is really a function of what we do today," he said. "Though some things about the future will always seem uncertain, the future is not entirely a mystery. To a great extent, the future is shaped by the accumulation of all our daily activities and disciplined efforts."

Elder Christensen told graduates that it is through their hard work — and a continuation of that hard work — that they will be able to make a difference for good in the world in which they live. Elder Christensen shared three small steps for individuals to do daily in order to ensure a brighter future.

Seek spiritual experiences every day

"Feeling the spirit each day and drawing near to the Lord requires that we dedicate sufficient time and energy to daily prayer and personal devotion.. Studying the scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon, becomes the most important part of our daily routine. … As we immerse ourselves in prayer and scripture study, we gain eternal perspective and open our hearts and minds to revelation — revelation we might not receive in other ways."

Work productively every day with purpose and balance

Elder Christensen said that graduation should mark the "commencement" of a long and productive life filled with work.

"Perhaps the greater issue is not learning how to work hard, but learning how to balance effectively all of the demands that will inevitably be placed upon you," he said. "Whatever your daily work will be, however you choose to consecrate your efforts, we invite you to focus on the preeminent goal of becoming more like the Savior Jesus Christ."

Find ways to daily serve others

Drawing from the statement that can be seen as individuals enter the BYU campus, "Enter to Learn, Go forth to Serve," Elder Christensen spoke of the importance of seeking opportunities to serve others.

"While setting a goal to do good in the world every day may sound ambitious, those who do find that opportunities abound. The distraction, it seems, is that we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we miss the needs of others all around us," he said. "To go an entire day and miss serving those who desperately need our help is to live far below our privileges. … Finding ways to serve others, whether early in the morning or late at night, is essential to achieving spiritual balance and purpose in life. …

"Your futures will be blessed as you come to understand that what you do each day, shapes who you will become in the future — that tomorrow truly is today."

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Other speakers included Elder Cecil O. Samuelson of the Seventy and BYU President, Chris Feinauer, BYU Alumni president and Chelsea Johnson Kennedy, a graduate. College convocations were scheduled to be held Friday in various locations on the BYU campus.

email: mholman@desnews.com

Grad stats

Bachelor Degree 1516

Master Degree 280

Doctor Degree 25

Total 1821