PROVO — "Be awful."
That was the unexpected advice given to 4,335 Brigham Young University graduates from the university's President Kevin J. Worthen during commencement exercises on Thursday afternoon.
“Before you dismiss my advice as a completely inappropriate effort to be unique rather than helpful, let me explain what I mean by that charge. My admonition is that you ‘be awful’ in its original, unpejorated sense, that you always be aware of things that are awe-inspiring,” he said. “I am urging you to be full of awe, if you will.”
Speaking in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus, Worthen conducted the event and shared brief remarks. Elder Bradley D. Foster, a General Authority Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the keynote address, and Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne was awarded an honorary degree for her charity and humanitarian work across the Middle East.
Sharing a bit of her story and how she became partners with the LDS Church's welfare organization, Baroness Nicholson spoke of a friend with whom she shared common interests and goals.
“I stand humbled to become one of your newest alumni at one of the most prestigious universities,” she said.
She shared a brief sketch of some of the humanitarian projects she has been a part of over her career and encouraged listeners to do what they can to make a difference in the lives of other people who have less. Building professions is key to that work, she said.
"To have intellectual strength we must accompany that with action."
The baroness invited listeners to count on her "as one of you" and encouraged them to call on her, ask questions and to build upon the common heritage of shared values and the "pursuit of freedom for all humanity."
"I remind us all that saving just one life is worth all the effort we can put in," she said.
During his keynote address, Elder Foster shared with graduates “a few secrets of life” to remember as they start the next chapter in their lives.
“God has given us two things in life: time and the opportunity to choose what you do with it,” he said. “This is your turn on earth. [I]t is up to us to use it.”
Elder Foster said that life wasn’t designed to be easy — part of living in “our days” means individuals will face opposition.
“Throughout your life all of you will experience both success and failure,” he said. “Don’t be too anxious for the applause for the success, or the pity for the failure. Remember, the common denominator in both success and failure is that neither of these conditions is permanent.”
It is important to understand the relationship a person has with God and others. As a person really understands this, he or she will act differently and will treat others differently.
“Never love anything that can’t love you back,” he said. “Remember, a distraction doesn’t have to be evil to be effective.”
Recognizing it can be a good thing to be competitive and successful, Elder Foster warned about making “owning things” a top priority.
“The world would have you believe that success is all about ‘fame and fortune,’” he said. “But as we’ve all heard before, money doesn’t buy happiness, it only makes you wealthy.
“Remember, happiness is not measured in zeros, but in relationships. Life is not about accumulation. Life is about contribution."
In addition to the advice of “be awful,” Worthen left graduates with the charge, “Don’t pejorate; ameliorate.”
“Just as words can pejorate — and acquire a more negative meaning over time, they can also acquire a more positive meaning,” he said. “Linguists call this amelioration.
“My hope is that those who encounter you and learn that you are a graduate of Brigham Young University will think better of BYU because they know you; that the term 'BYU' will ameliorate — not pejorate — as a result of what you do and who you are.”
Other speakers at the event included Amy Fennegan, president of the alumni chapter, and graduate Thomas James Stone. Earlier in the day, the Army ROTC commissioned six cadets and the Air Force ROTC commissioned 16 cadets. Convocations for different colleges were scheduled at various times on April 27-28 throughout the university’s campus.