PROVO, Utah — There is no room for political tribalism or contempt in a BYU graduate, or even in a briefcase bearing the school's Y logo on it, speakers told the largest number of Brigham Young University grads in history on Thursday morning.
"If we are going to beat the problem of contempt, we’re going to need something more radical than civility — something that speaks to our hearts' desire," said Arthur Brooks, a Catholic who is a longtime friend of the school and president of the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.
"We need love," said Brooks, on whom BYU bestowed an honorary doctorate. "We need a new generation ready to model lives of love in the midst of the culture of contempt."
The keynote speaker joined Brooks' call.
"Avoid the political tribalism which has become so destructive across countries and continents," said Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU's sponsoring institution. "You can become an advocate for fairness in all corners of society."
Brooks told the record 6,960 graduates that a previous gift from the school, a briefcase with the Y logo, motivated him to help others more often as he "impersonated" a member of the BYU community by trying "to live up to the high standards of kindness of your church and your university."
He cited Arthur Schopenhauer's definition of contempt — "the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another" — and asked graduates to counter the growing contempt in the world by living up to their reputation and dusting off their church's missionary tradition to use it in a different way — infiltrating the culture of contempt and modeling better values and ways to disagree better.
"Your greatest witness to the world as members of this community is the conduct of your life," he said. "Our nation and world need this — they need you — more than ever today."
"Missionaries," he added, "have the training and experience to participate in society without getting sucked into its pathologies. They have the courage and fortitude necessary to face resistance, and go forth with the joy that comes from sharing the truth."
BYU changed its graduation tradition this year, eliminating August commencement exercises and combining all the school year's graduates into one event. Today's ceremonies was for all who graduated at the end of terms in December and this week with those who will complete their degrees in June and August.
The Marriott Center was filled to capacity, with more than 19,000 friends and family filling the arena.
Elder Kearon applauded Brooks for declaring love the antidote to the poison of contempt.
"If a briefcase can change us, imagine what you can do," he said, suggesting they spread light, hope, peace, joy and love, "helping to make this a more wonderful world for more of God’s children. There is a clear need for you to engage in public service."
BYU President Kevin Worthen said the massive Y on Y Mountain above the school's campus was the result of a fight over what to put on the mountain and ultimately a failure to install the full acronym BYU.
"There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed by events," he said, "times when despite your best efforts you will fall short of your goal, when you feel that you have utterly failed, just like the exhausted students must have felt when the B and U were left off the mountain. But, as it turns out, having only a Y on the mountain may have been the optimum result, even though few, if any, might have thought so at the time."
He said the lessons are that symbols gain personal meaning by what a person chooses to make of them and how he or she responds to them and that when graduates feel they have failed and nothing can be done, they can trust God's promise to make all things work together for the good of those who love him.
"You may not see it immediately, but God can make all things work together for your good," he said. "He can turn an altercation between rival classes and a failed attempt to stamp a mountain with three letters into a symbol of unity and success. More importantly, he can make good come from all our efforts — not just from our successes, but also from our failures and the failures of others that cause us pain. God is that good and that powerful. We just need to trust him."
Elder Kearon spoke of the pain that followed the car accident that claimed his father's life when Elder Kearon was 29 and expressed gratitude for the refrain of the song "Gratus Animus" performed by the BYU Women's Chorus: "I dream, I feel, I hurt, I heal."20 comments on this story
Elder Kearon said one of his father's favorite songs was "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.
"You may not be in a position to make a global impact," he said, "though some of you will, but all of you will be able to do your part in spreading light, hope, peace, joy — and love — in your circles of influence, helping to make this a more wonderful world for more of God’s children."
Graduates come from 49 states (no Delaware), 2 territories (Guam + American Samoa) and 66 foreign countries (listed below). Graduation exercises will continue throughout the day.