The path to Steffanie Kuehn's future moves from the robotic to the encephalon.
"I am fascinated with the brain. It's a miracle that we function the way we do," said the freshly minted Brigham Young University graduate, now holding a degree in electrical engineering. She also hold the keys to a graduate education where she will help develop technologies to connect the brain with mechanical prostheses -- neurologically controlled devices that promise to enhance quality of life for amputees.
Already equipped with a full-ride grant for Columbia University's doctoral program in biomedical engineering, Kuehn was among 5,315 students awarded baccalaureate degrees Thursday at BYU's commencement at the Marriott Center in Provo. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the school, counseled graduates to trust God's power and tend to their ultimate destiny.
Russell Nelson, a Utah-trained physician who serves on the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, reminded graduates they are venturing into an uncertain job market, cautioning them to chose mentors wisely.
He recounted a 1978 experience in rural Mexico with a group of doctors, one of whom suddenly began bleeding internally.
"All of our combined knowledge could not be mobilized to stop his hemorrhage and save the life of our beloved companion," Nelson said. "Ashen and pale, he asked for a priesthood blessing."
Nelson sealed the blessing and contrary to expectations, the bleeding stopped and he recovered.
"The lesson was simple: Trust in the Lord with all thy heart," Nelson said.
Dieter Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency, urged graduates to use their time wisely and set sound goals, both temporal and spiritual.
"What are the nonessential things cluttering your life and stealing your time? What are the unfinished and unstarted things that could add bigger meaning and joy to your life? Sometimes we neglect the essential things in life," said Uchtdorf, an airline pilot who was awarded an honorary doctorate in international leadership.
"Never stop learning and never stop using what you have learned to serve God and your fellow man," he continued. "The world needs you and your goodness."
About one-third of BYU's graduates are from Utah and half are married. Although nearly 90 percent of the graduates are white, this year's graduating class is BYU's most diverse, with 361 of the students coming from 74 nations, noted student speaker Joseph R. Nance of El Paso, Texas.
"Just as our university experience was not complete without finding ways to lose ourselves in the service of others, our lives will remain unfulfilled if we keep to ourselves and do not give to the world of what BYU has given us," said Nance, who majored in humanities with minors in French and Italian and served as student president.
Kuehn could exemplify that ideal. She will soon move to New York City to join Columbia's Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing to help develop technologies she believes will have an effect on people's lives.
"If we can understand how the brain sends signals, we can go in an modify the spinal cord to reinterpret those signals so [patients] can regain mobility and functionality," Kuehn said.
Kuehn earned perfect college-entrance test scores and grade-point averages in high school in Gilbert, Ariz., but she applied to only one university -- the one where her dad studied mechanical engineering.
"I liked that BYU was an undergraduate-focused institution," she said. "I knew that I would have the attention and opportunities that I wouldn't have elsewhere."