Provo • In too many nations and for too many people, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said Thursday, the scourges of poverty, abuse, malnutrition, disease, human trafficking and terror are still the rule rather than the exception.
Speaking at the commencement ceremony for Brigham Young University, Holland — a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — told graduates he is counting on them to be “consumed with conviction” to better their lives and the lives of others.
“If correcting all the world’s ills seems a daunting task, so be it,” Holland told the graduating assembled at BYU’s Marriott Center. “If we can’t look at you to change the world, tell me to whom we should look.”
Holland said graduation day may be an odd time to dwell on negatives, and that some will likely see societal corruption as inevitable. But it isn’t, he said, and after enrolling at BYU to learn, graduates must now go forth “to serve and strengthen.”
“Be a ray of light,” the church leader said. “Be your best self and let your character shine.”
Holland was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s ceremony, which honored roughly 6,300 degree earners at the private Provo school, owned and operated by the LDS Church. BYU’s class of 2018 included 5,393 bachelor’s degrees, 726 master’s degrees and 178 doctorate degrees.
The average age of graduates was 25 years old, with one 80-year-old student earning a bachelor’s degree. Roughly one-third of students were Utahns, with 58 percent enrolling from other parts of the United States and 10 percent enrolling internationally.
Holland, who recently completed a global tour with LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, began his remarks by joking that he had left for the Provo school two weeks ago to make sure he would not be late.
But he got lost, Holland said, finding himself in Jerusalem and Nairobi after following Nelson’s directions.
“My goodness,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd, “it has taken me all I could do to finally get here.”
Utah’s former governor, Michael Leavitt, also spoke after receiving an honorary doctorate degree in public service from BYU President Keven Worthen.
Leavitt told about how one of his children considered skipping their commencement ceremony due to the cost of a graduate’s cap and gown. After Leavitt offered to pay, he said, his son changed his mind about “walking,” but didn’t bother to tell his parents and family the time and location of the ceremony.
“I would like to begin today by simply saying to all of you, this is a very big deal,” Leavitt said. “And may I say ‘thank you’ for including your parents.”
Leavitt’s comments focused on humility, hard work and service. Personal discipline, he said, makes a difference in an individual’s capacity to succeed and their self-esteem will be derived from their efforts to help the people around them.
“When this big deal is over, you will leave the campus of Brigham Young University and find your way into a world that badly needs your light,” Leavitt said. “Go humbly and serve. Work hard, be honest, be reliable.”
Graduates were also warned by Worthen, the university president, to not be motivated by pride and riches. Referring to lyrics of the school’s “College Song,” commonly sung by the BYU marching band after football games, he said too much of human behavior is governed by pride and riches, which lead to “places we don’t want to be, both physically and spiritually.”
“When we are motivated solely by those two things – or either one of them – we lose the ability to call down the powers of heaven,” Worthen said, “and our eternal progress comes to a screeching halt.”