PROVO — Troubles never need to be permanent nor fatal, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told more than 6,000 Brigham Young University graduates entering a world that holds "challenges and difficulties."
"Darkness always yields to light," he said. "The sun always rises. Faith, hope and charity will always triumph in the end. Furthermore, they will triumph all along the way."
Offering the keynote address during BYU graduation ceremonies Thursday evening, Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked graduates to let their character shine while bridling their ambitions.
"In the days and years ahead, you may suffer some discouragement and disappointment. On occasion you may feel genuine despair, either for yourself or your children or the plight and conditions of others. You may even make a personal mistake or two — serious mistakes, perhaps, though I hope not — and you may worry that any chance to be happy and secure in life has eluded you forever.
"When such times come, I ask you to remember this: This is the church of the happy endings."
While standing outside the Marriott Center in her cap and gown after the ceremony, BYU graduate Rebekah Isert said, "It is hard to put into words how I feel — which is unusual because I was an English major."
The 26 year old stood looking at the other graduates and campus and smiled. To many, graduation is a day of celebration in honor of completing courses and passing their tests. For Isert, graduation represents a lot of hard work both in and out of the classrooms.
"It has been a big effort, and I had to deal with a lot of things to get here," she said.
After returning home from her LDS mission in Arizona, Isert was in her junior year and attending school when she realized something was off, and that she needed help.
"I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression almost a year ago," she said. "Acknowledging I had it was really difficult. But I have been able to learn what to do, and now the world isn't such a big scary place."
And now with a college degree, she looks to the future with hope.
Isert is one of 6,087 BYU graduates who earned 6,297 degrees — 5,393 bachelor's degrees, 726 master's degrees and 178 doctorate degrees.
This year marks the first year there are more female graduates than not — 52 percent — who have served a mission for the LDS Church.
In addition to Elder Holland's keynote address, President Kevin J Worthen spoke and conducted the service. Former Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt received an honorary doctorate degree.
Worthen encouraged grads, as they make career and other important decisions in life, to aspire to a place with no pride or focus on riches.
"I can predict with a high degree of certainty that there will be many times in your post-graduate life when you will face decisions that will ultimately be determined by whether you are motivated by pride and riches on the one hand, or whether you are moved to act consistent with truths that resonate 'in your heart and in your mind' on the other," Worthen said. "My simple promise to you is that if you choose the latter over the former, your life will be more joyful, more fulfilling and more eternally productive."
Mentioning his recent return from a global tour accompanying LDS President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Holland joked about finding his way to campus.
"A funny thing happened on the way to getting here," Elder Holland told graduates. "I left early to make sure I wasn't late, I started out two weeks ago. And boy, it is a good thing I did. I'm not sure where I made the wrong turn, but the next thing I knew I was seeing road signs that said, 'Jerusalem' and 'Nairobi' and 'Bangalore' and 'Hong Kong.' It has taken me all I could do to get here on time."
Elder Holland, who served as the ninth president of BYU, focused his remarks on the experience of Thomas Wolsey — a man who rose in his time to become "the most powerful layman in the entire British kingdom of his day," second only to King Henry VIII.
"Quickly enough he was the controlling figure in all matters of state and every political move made by his monarch," Elder Holland said. "He loved display and wealth. He lived in royal splendor and reveled in royal power."
Yet, just as quickly as he rose in power, Wolsey's fall was sudden when he was unable to get Rome's approval for the king to get a divorce.
"What a tragic end to such a gifted beginning," Elder Holland said. "What a pathetic farewell to a life that held such promise. And where did it go wrong? It went wrong when Wolsey's public ambition became more important than his personal integrity."
Recognizing that in the world today "almost nothing seems impossible," Elder Holland encouraged graduates to "be your best self and let your character shine," while bridling ambitions so they don't become like Wolsey.
Leavitt, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and 14th Governor of Utah, received an honorary doctorate of public service. In his brief remarks, Leavitt shared "the economics of goodness."
"It is a simple but powerful idea," he said. "Every nation or state has economic assets that produce wealth. It may be minerals, it may be a seaport, it may be a favorable climate. But there is a universal asset of immense value, inherent in any community if we use it. That power is simply the inclination of its citizens to do the right thing, voluntarily."
He focused on three lessons: First, humor and humility are "more endearing that hubris."16 comments on this story
Second, "the economics of goodness applies to individuals as well as nations. People who work hard, those that are honest and reliable, have a better chance at success than those who don't."
And third, "Service is the source of our self-esteem. It is also the source of satisfaction and a source of healing."
"Therefore, go," Leavitt said. "Go humbly to serve. Work hard, be honest. Be reliable. I testify to you that success will be yours."
Other speakers included BYU Alumni Association president Jonathan O. Hafen and graduate Jared Blanchard. The BYU Concert Choir performed "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel.