Elder Gong Tells BYU–Hawaii Graduates: “May You Ever Be a Finisher”

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • LAIE, HAWAII

BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy walk outside the Cannon Activities Center June 9.  Photo by Monique Saenz.

Article Highlights

  • Remember and keep your sacred promises and covenants to the Lord, to your family, and to yourself.
  • Be a finisher, someone who always completes their honorable goals.
  • Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, continue to bless your family, church, and community.

“I hope what you have accomplished here will give you courage and strength and humility when you meet ups and downs and challenges, as we all do, in your life.” —Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Presidency of the Seventy

The scent of flower leis and the sounds of an excited crowd filled the Cannon Activities Center on June 9 for Brigham Young University–Hawaii’s spring commencement. Families from around the world watched—both in person and via live streaming online—as graduates walked across the stage in their caps and gowns.

The university, known for its picturesque campus, is a great institution of learning for students from many countries around the world. This semester’s graduating class consisted of 250 degrees—224 bachelor’s degrees and 26 associate’s degrees. Graduates come from 30 countries, and their ages range from 19 to 46. Many BYU–Hawaii students are the first in their family to earn a college degree.

“I hope you will always remember, with a sweet taste, your special days here at BYU–Hawaii,” said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy. “I hope what you have accomplished here will give you courage and strength and humility when you meet ups and downs and challenges, as we all do, in your life.”

Sharing the experience his family had as they visited scenic Hobbiton—home of hobbits in the Lord of the Rings movies based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien—in New Zealand, Elder Gong spoke of the characters Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee as they were leaving their home in “the Shire” for the outside world.

“For Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and all the hobbits, the Shire is beautiful and familiar—perhaps a little like Laie,” he said.

Just as Frodo and Samwise left the Shire to travel on a great adventure, so do graduates as they prepare to leave Laie.

“I hope you will remember your BYU–Hawaii years with the fondness and gratitude with which Sam and Frodo remember the Shire,” Elder Gong said.

Recognizing the unique situation students have had at BYU–Hawaii, Elder Gong spoke of the university being one of three places that has a temple, a BYU campus, and a “learning community dedicated to learning and service according to the spirit and standards of the holy temple and Brigham Young University.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks during commencement exercises for BYU–Hawaii held in the Cannon Activities Center on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner speaks during commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Graduate Theresa Smith speaks during commencement exercises at BYU–Hawaii on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Mark B. Woodruff, who serves as the assistant to the commissioner of the Church Educational System and as secretary to the Boards of Trustees, speaks during commencement exercises at BYU–Hawaii on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks during commencement exercises for BYU–Hawaii held in the Cannon Activities Center on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

A BYU–Hawaii graduate smiles for a picture after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Because of those unique circumstances, graduates have a great responsibility to live worthily of the love and sacrifice of others who have contributed to their degree from a Church-owned school.

“Never look down on parents, family, or others if they have less education than you,” he said. “Always be grateful to those who helped you learn and grow. Always live with honor as you bless and serve in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, including the isles of the sea and every country and heritage from which you have each come.”

No matter where graduates go after their time in Laie, all must remember the education—both secular and spiritual—they received while attending BYU–Hawaii.

“Wherever you next go, I hope you will keep the temple close to your heart, whether or not you are physically close to a temple,” he said. “Wherever you live, please remember and keep your sacred promises and covenants to the Lord, to your family, to yourself.”

Sharing from the words of English poet John Milton, Elder Gong spoke of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden.

“Dear graduates, if you feel in any way that you are leaving paradise and going into a world of sticks and stones, if you feel you are leaving the Shire and going into a world of Orks, Mordor, and Nasgulls, please remember the comforting promise, which is true: the world is all before you; you can choose your place of rest, and Providence will be your guide.”

No matter a person’s quest, it is important to remember one’s true, divine identity, the Church leader taught.

“May that life lesson to learn wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, continue to bless your family, church service, and community,” he said. “May you always be a finisher, someone who completes your honorable goals.”

BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner conducted the commencement and shared brief remarks. Speaking on the topic “Preparing for Your Final, Final Exam,” the university president encouraged graduates to live their life in a way that will prepare them to meet the Savior.

“What do we know about this final, final?” he asked. “Well, according to the scriptures, it will be an open-book exam. However, it will not be like the open-book exams you may have taken in school, for the book that shall be opened will be a book written by you. It is called the book of life—your life.”

A person cannot cram for such an exam, President Tanner taught. Preparation for the final comes from an individual’s works, words, and thoughts as well as through having faith and repenting.

“I do not expect to ace the final, final exam with a perfect score,” he said. “Rather, I too anticipate grasping the Lord’s wounded hand at the last day in the hope that He will take me, a sinner, to Himself. My hope for salvation rests on the print of the nails.”

Mark B. Woodruff, assistant to the commissioner of the Church Educational System, and Theresa Smith, a graduate, also spoke.

The procession of graduates walks into the Cannon Activities Center prior to graduation at BYU–Hawaii on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

A processional of graduates walks into the Cannon Activities Center prior to graduation at BYU–Hawaii on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy and BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner lead the procession of graduates during commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy greet graduates during commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy and BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner and Sister Susan W. Tanner stand with a group of people after BYU–Hawaii commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Graduates of BYU–Hawaii congratulate each other after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

A BYU–Hawaii graduate poses for a picture after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

BYU–Hawaii graduates and supporters celebrate after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

A BYU–Hawaii graduate and her supporters pose for a picture after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

BYU–Hawaii graduates and their supporters pose for pictures after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

A BYU–Hawaii graduate and her supporters pose for a picture after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

BYU–Hawaii graduates and supporters pose for pictures after commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy and BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner lead the procession of graduates during commencement exercises on June 9. Photo by Monique Saenz.