Stay “Connected” to God, Elder L. Whitney Clayton Tells BYU Graduates

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 26 April 2016

Elder L. Whitney Clayton speaks during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016.  Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The connection shared with God through making and keeping covenants matters the most.
  • Also value connections to family, friends, BYU, and the Church.
  • Consider an eternal perspective in choosing the kind of work you will do, and make it a calling, not just a job.

“When we love God, we become truly connected to Him. … As we keep the commandments, we show our love for God.” —Elder Whitney L. Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy

PROVO, UTAH

In speaking of the value of interpersonal connections, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy declared that the connection that matters most is the one with God.

Elder Clayton addressed close to 6,000 graduates and their friends and family gathered in the Marriott Center during Brigham Young University commencement exercises on Thursday, April 21. The class of April 2016 included 5,038 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, 688 students receiving master’s degrees, and 203 receiving doctoral degrees.

In his remarks, titled “Getting and Staying Connected,” Elder Clayton referenced an advertisement for a smartphone he had recently watched depicting a group of 20-somethings out on the town at night. The message of the ad insinuated: “Purchase this product and you too will be ‘connected.’ You'll be young, attractive, socially accepted, up-to-date, and in charge of your life. Things will be good. You'll be happy, have friends, and have fun.”

The power of the ad, Elder Clayton said, was that “it subtly nudges against eternal truths. There can be, after all, real value in being connected.”

Elder Clayton then spoke of several connections of “real value” to graduates, starting with their relationship with their parents, grandparents, and family.

Erin Ogden and other students walk during the academic procession during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Elder L. Whitney Clayton speaks during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

“We hope that you will thank them, especially by the way you live,” he said. “Your lifelong faithfulness and devotion to the Savior and His restored Church will be the highest demonstration of gratitude that you can offer to your parents.”

Elder Clayton told graduates that no degree or academic distinction will be more valuable than their connection to their spouse. “Your happiness and growth in this life, and your opportunities for eternity hereafter, are fundamentally linked to this most ‘immediate’ of all connections,” he said and then promised couples if they would become devoted to heaven, their connection “will be the flower and fruit of your lives.”

Some students have also become parents as they have pursued their education, he noted. “Your children are connected to you and you to them in ways parents have to experience to understand,” he said, adding that the graduates’ education has “expanded your capacity to offer your children an opportunity to thrive in this life.”

Elder Clayton also discussed the connection graduates now have with their alma mater. “I believe you now have a duty to stay connected to BYU,” he said. “The alumni association's motto is ‘Connected for Good.’ Your education enables you to help BYU go forward in good ways.”

President Kevin Worthen and Elder L. Whitney Clayton watch as students walk during the academic procession during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Graduates’ education at the university has also connected them with the Church and its membership. “The expense of operating BYU far exceeds the tuition paid for your education,” Elder Clayton explained. “The cost of your education here was subsidized by the tithing of a few members with extensive bank accounts, but it was also aided by some both here and abroad who literally or figuratively keep their limited savings under their mattresses. … You are connected to all of these Saints as their beneficiaries.”

Elder Clayton expressed his hope for graduates to stay connected to classmates, friends, and professors from BYU. “These connections will circle around over the years to bless and help you in happy, righteous ways.”

Just as there are connections that should be strengthened, there are others that should be severed, including dating connections that did not result in marriage and any association with pornography, Elder Clayton warned.

“Any closeness to this temptation should be abruptly disconnected and effort focused on seeking help from Church leaders and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Clayton also warned listeners of the perils of taking “online tours in the territory of the faithless.”

A student personalizes a cap during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

He said, “We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.”

The connection that matters most, Elder Clayton said, is the one shared with God, and individuals connect with God by making and keeping covenants. “These covenantal connections to Him become the guideposts for our lives. They help us measure where we are on the strait and narrow path. They lead us to the fruit of the Atonement—forgiveness, peace of conscience, and love.”

As such, individuals should seek after everything that promotes the keeping of covenants. “Our connection with heaven is the most valuable blessing we have and the most important one we can secure. It strengthens every other worthy connection in our lives.”

Students walk during the academic procession for spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Elder Clayton told the graduates that during their experience at BYU they had the opportunity of gaining academic excellence while establishing a closer binding to God. “When we love God, we become truly connected to Him. When we love our neighbor, we become truly connected to him or her. As we keep the commandments, we show our love for God. As we serve one another, we show our love for our neighbor. The lasting value of your education at Brigham Young University is that it enhanced your capacity to do both.”

In his remarks, BYU President Kevin J Worthen told listeners it is important to consider both events from the past and choices faced in the future from an eternal perspective.

“We can best judge things that have happened in our lives if we view them from God’s perspective, from an eternal viewpoint,” he said. “When we have experienced soul-stretching experiences, we should consider them in light of God’s plan for us, with the assurance that even though we don’t fully understand things when they happen, God can make ‘all things work together for [our] good’ (Romans 8:28) if we love Him.”

He urged graduates to consider an eternal perspective in choosing the kind of work they do as well as how they perform their work. “Make your work, whatever it may be, a calling or a vocation, and not just a job.”

President Worthen told listeners their most important work will be as a family member. “So as we celebrate your past accomplishments and look forward to your future, I urge you to view things from an eternal perspective—in the light of God’s great plan of salvation. As you do so, your past, present, and future will be more meaningful, more fruitful, and more joyful.”

Miranda Collette and Kendall Whittiker walk during the academic procession during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

During the commencement ceremonies, Ambassador Su Ge was awarded an honorary doctorate—the highest honor the university can grant. Ambassador Ge was the first student from the People’s Republic of China following the 1979 normalization of U.S.–China diplomatic relations to receive a BYU scholarship. While at BYU he completed a graduate degree in American studies and a PhD in American history.

Other speakers at the event included graduate Alicia Kristine Stanton and Amy Fennegan, president of the BYU Alumni Association. A musical number was provided by the BYU Singers.

Austin and Hayley Delamare wave to family during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Ambassador Su Ge receives an honorary degree during spring commencement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.