Church News and Events

Graduates Told to “Learn, Lead, Build, Press Forward”

Contributed By By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer

  • 20 December 2013

BYU-Hawaii graduates celebrate after their December 14 commencement exercises, during which Elder Neil L. Andersen encouraged them to continue learning.  Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.


Although the music and words of encouragement given during recent commencement exercises at Brigham Young University-Hawaii were not unusual to a graduation, spectators could take one look around the room and see there is something different about the students of BYU-Hawaii. The graduating class—consisting of 247 students—represents 46 countries throughout the world.

Commencement exercises held on the BYU-Hawaii campus on December 14 celebrated the hard work and dedication of the students and their families—even though, because of the international reach of students, many families were unable to attend. The event included counsel from Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Paul V. Johnson, a member of the Seventy and the Commissioner of the Church Educational System; and BYU-Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright.

“I congratulate you for who you are and what you have accomplished,” Elder Andersen said. “You are part of a divine prophecy. More than 50 years ago, a prophet of God, David O. McKay, spoke of you. He declared that you who were to graduate from this university would be men and women of influence, leaders who would return to many countries. He spoke of your character—that you would scorn the idea of violating truth, that your hearts would be of genuine gold. I salute you as ones fulfilling that marvelous prophecy.”

Elder Andersen encouraged the graduates to “learn, lead, build, and press forward.”

“Developing spiritual strength doesn’t come from leaning back; it comes from pressing forward, constantly seeking more light and knowledge from heaven,” he said. “In my undergraduate days, I memorized this saying: ‘On the plains of hesitation are bleached the bones of countless thousands who, at the Dawn of Victory, stopped to rest, and resting, died.’ We cannot rest. Learn, lead, build, press forward.”

Pressing forward implies more than simply going forward, he said. To press implies something is preventing advancement, and a push is needed to get through it.

“To go forward in this life, you must press temptations aside, press through obstacles, press the doubt and the fear under your feet, and embrace the divine qualities of faith, hope and love. Learn, lead, build, press forward,” he urged.

BYU-Hawaii graduates shown on December 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.

Drawing from the scriptural example of people “pressing forward,” Elder Andersen spoke of the people reaching out for the iron rod in the Book of Mormon. Pressing forward means following Nephi’s counsel to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”

“Your education at BYU-Hawaii has prepared you to press forward as Nephi described,” he said. “In 1876, before there was BYU-Hawaii, before there was BYU-Provo, Brigham Young met with Karl G. Maeser, who was to be responsible for Brigham Young Academy, and charged him ‘that [he] ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God. This is how you have been taught.”

Pressing forward with steadfastness in Christ means having faith in Him, making Him the central focus of thoughts and desires, he said.

“When it is He you are following, pressing forward is the ultimate adventure,” Elder Andersen taught. Later, he declared, “Pressing forward means pushing away the ‘temptations and cares’ of the world and keeping the commandments with exactness.”

Keeping commandments brings loyalty and love. As individuals are obedient and keep the commandments first, they are able to experience spiritual confirmations.

Much of Elder Andersen’s address highlighted the very diverse student body of BYU-Hawaii. Elder Andersen spoke of a few graduates of BYU-Hawaii—representing the faithful students of the university—who are great examples of learning, leading, building, and pressing forward. He spoke of two BYU-Hawaii graduates, Peter Xie and Eugenia Chu, as examples of those who have pressed forward after graduation.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve, right, and Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy greet BYU-Hawaii graduates on December 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.

Peter, who was born in China, learned of the gospel and was baptized while working in Cambodia. He served as a missionary in New York City and later enrolled at BYU-Hawaii.

Eugenia was attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, when she felt she needed to transfer to BYU-Hawaii during her junior year.

“Although her parents came from Hong Kong, she was born and raised in the United States, knew few Asians, and did not speak Cantonese,” Elder Andersen said. “While … in the temple performing baptisms, she felt a powerful impression that she was to serve a mission.”

Eugenia was called to serve in Hong Kong, where she taught the gospel and learned the Chinese culture and language.

“If you haven’t served a mission and are single, talk with your bishop,” Elder Andersen said. “A mission prepares you for a life of pressing forward.”

It was after Eugenia had returned from her mission that she met Peter.

BYU-Hawaii graduates line up prior to commencement exercises on December 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.

“Peter immediately fell in love with Eugenia,” Elder Andersen said. “For Eugenia it didn’t happen quite so fast. … While she had the strong impression that she was to marry Peter, she prayed that the Lord would help her fall in love with him.”

The Lord answered her prayer and they were married two months after their graduation.

“Finding the right person to marry is not always easy,” Elder Andersen said. “Not everyone here will marry. You men have a responsibility to initiate relationships that will lead to friendship and eventually to trust and love. In many cultures men hesitate until they are established in a profession. When you are following Him, pressing forward is the ultimate adventure.”

Of the 247 graduating students at BYU-Hawaii on December 14, 84 were married, and of those married, 50 have children.

Elder Neil L. Andersen speaks to BYU-Hawaii graduates during commencement exercises on December 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.

Elder Andersen encouraged students to not wait until they are settled professionally, financially and socially to have children, adding “children will put life in its correct perspective and bring you great joy.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Paul V. Johnson (Commissioner of the Church Educational System and a member of the Seventy) lead the procession for BYU-Hawaii commencement exercises. Photo courtesy of BYU-Hawaii University Communications.

“When to have a child and how many children to have are private decisions to be made between a husband and wife and the Lord,” he said. “These are sacred decisions that should be made with sincere prayer and acted on with great faith.”

Peter and Eugenia and their daughter, Perina, are living in Dallas, Texas, and are working and serving in the Chinese branch, preparing themselves for the time they can return to mainland China. They are expecting their second child to be born in April.

Peter and Eugenia are examples of the many students going forth throughout the world who are following the counsel of the Savior: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

“It doesn’t matter if your light shines in China, Tonga, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Taiwan, Vanuatu, or the United States,” Elder Andersen said. “As your light shines, it will glorify your Father in Heaven.”