Graduates and all who rejoice with you on this occasion: Commencement exercises are happy and joyous times for you, for your parents, for friends, for teachers, and for administration. Here we acknowledge accomplishments, taking proud notice of goals attained. Here we also take grateful notice of potentials certified and anticipate future achievements. These exercises are also occasions to celebrate graduates’ progress from one status to another. That is what “commencement” signifies. It is a rite of passage, like a christening, a baptism, or a wedding reception. I am pleased to be part of such a joyous occasion.
As is traditional on such occasions, I will give some advice to graduates. I have titled my message “Push Back Against the World.” By pushing against “the world” I obviously do not mean all that the world has to offer in modern conveniences, prosperity, and security. When I say, “Push back against the world,” I mean push back against that part of the world’s values and practices that draw us away from the Lord’s teachings and our covenant obligations.
At the beginning of this dispensation, the Lord warned that “every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).
The Apostle Paul gave the same warning in one of his New Testament letters: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Those warnings not to be spoiled by the “likeness of the world” and “the tradition of men” apply to all of us. But they apply most particularly to graduates who are about to leave the protection of their alma mater, which means their nourishing mother, and venture forth into a world full of temptations and troubles.
There is nothing new in such advice to one who is just setting forth. The Lord warned the young Prophet Joseph Smith that he should not go on “in the persuasions of men” (D&C 3:6). And again, in connection with his loss of the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lord rebuked the Prophet with these words: “And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more” (D&C 5:21).
Later, just a few months after the Church was organized, the Lord commanded Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, to “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10).
The cares and temptations of the world are very real to all, especially to those who have accepted the doctrines and made the covenants of the restored gospel. Prophetic teachings often run counter to the popular ideas and prejudices of the world. Church members must, therefore, take special care to avoid the mistake of James Covel, an early convert, who rejected the word and the way of the Lord because of “the fear of persecution and the cares of the world” (D&C 40:2).
These are challenging times, filled with big worries: wars and rumors of wars, possible epidemics of infectious diseases, droughts, floods, and global warming. Seacoast cities are concerned with the rising level of the ocean, which will bring ocean tides to their doorsteps or over their thresholds. Global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife. Nations whose prosperity depends on world peace and free trade worry about disturbing developments that threaten either or both of these. We are even challenged by the politics of conflict and the uncertainties sponsored by the aggressive new presidential administration in the world’s most powerful nation.
But as serious as all of this is, we must worry just as much about the rising tide of evil in the world around us. Though some of us may feel isolated from the physical and political threats I have just mentioned, all of us are surrounded with evil in literature, music, movies, videos—on the internet, in our schools, and in the marketplace.
I see all of these challenges as a fulfillment of Father Lehi’s prophetic teaching that there must be “an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). We cannot change the evil influences that surround and press upon us and our families, but we can increase our power to deal with them as we push back against the world. We must try to carve out personal islands of purity and serenity and strengthen our barriers against the forces that besiege us in these protected spaces.
Following the Lord’s way is not easy. The Lord has warned us again and again, directly and through His servants, that the world will hate us for being different, for doing things the Lord’s way. In the concluding days of His ministry, He told His Apostles, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). The good news is that when we do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way we are assured of His blessings to help us. “I will go before your face,” He has said. “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).
One of the most effective ways we can go forward with faith and push back against the world is to observe the Sabbath day in an appropriate, positive way. The Sabbath day of worship and rest from worldly labors is the divinely appointed anchor to hold us fast in the storms of life. Properly observed, the Sabbath will help us and our families develop the spiritual strength we need to stand firm against temptation and to stay unspotted from the world.
By modern revelation the Lord has commanded that on the Sabbath we “rest from [our] labors” and “pay [our] devotions unto the Most High” and that on this day we “do none other thing” (D&C 59:10, 13). When we keep this commandment of our Creator, we qualify for His promised blessings. He who created us knows what patterns of behavior will allow us to achieve our maximum physical and spiritual performance, and He has given us commandments designed to guide us into that behavior. When we honor the Sabbath day, we separate ourselves from most of the world, but we are blessed richly for it.
Another way to push back against the world is to stand clear from the current atmosphere of hate and to refrain from participating in the contentious communications that are so common today. Partly such contentious communications result from modern technology, which fosters conflicts by expanding the audience and the speed of dissemination. Careless charges, false representations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, widening and intensifying the distance between different parties and different positions. I am not referring to differences in policies, which need to be debated publicly, but to the current ugliness and personal meanness of the communications.
Don’t be part of such communications. As followers of Christ, we know that all of the inhabitants of this earth are children of God. Use that knowledge to push back against the worldly prejudices that preach hate or hostility toward other nations, ethnic groups, or even political parties.
Remember our Savior’s teaching that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). In our discourse, public and private, we should all follow the gospel teachings to avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. But beyond this we should remember and follow the Savior’s teaching: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Just this month President Monson taught us:
“If we would keep the commandment to love one another, we must treat each other with compassion and respect, showing our love in day-to-day interactions. …
“Love is the very essence of the gospel, the noblest attribute of the human soul. Love is the remedy for ailing families, ill communities, and sick nations.”1
Of course this counsel to love, to avoid contention, and to be examples of civility is not meant to discourage us from participating in discussions, debates, and even taking adversarial positions against what we believe to be wrong or inadvisable. Within the limits of our own resources of time and influence we should take a position, make it known, and in a respectful way attempt to persuade others of its merit, at least for us. Positive action is essential to our responsibility to push back against the world.
Good examples of those kinds of positions where our voices need to be heard are the importance of religion and religious freedom for all citizens, believers and nonbelievers alike.
As to the importance of religion, we can be alert to insist that its importance in the founding of this nation and the progress of our civilization is given fair treatment in our public schools. This is needed because some influential leaders and many educators have come to consider it bad taste or even illegal for public schools even to mention religious influences and motivations.
The American Textbook Council, which surveys the most widely used American and world history textbooks, gave this report two decades ago: “The strength of religion in shaping human thought and action is not often explained, and its role as a motivating agent of culture, politics, and ethics often remains under examined. … Religion in the contemporary world is discussed by region, out of context, and often in oblique and misleading ways.”2
We should push back against such incomplete and inaccurate portrayals of our histories and our people.
Under the banner of Jesus Christ, we should also go forward in coalitions of like-minded persons to protect and advance the strength of our precious freedoms of speech, conscience, and the free exercise of religion. I have spoken often on this subject, in this country and other countries. This subject is important, but not needful of further emphasis to this audience.
Of course, pushing back against the world includes as one of its most important elements keeping the commandments of God. Graduates, I plead with each of you not to seek happiness in the glittering temptations and attractions of the world. As the scriptures teach, wickedness never was happiness. Those who yield to the enticing of Satan may, as the scripture says, “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25), but that kind of pleasure can never lead to lasting happiness or eternal joy. Over time, yielding to the influences of Satan will only halt eternal progress and bring feelings of darkness, anger, hate, and misery.
While speaking of sin, I will also speak of the dangers of some elements of national and ethnic cultures, and even family cultures, that come from the traditions and practices of men. When the practices of these cultures are contrary to gospel covenants and culture, we must push back and separate ourselves from them. We must do this with cultural practices that accommodate dishonesty or dependency or tolerate sexual relations outside marriage. The Apostle Paul warned: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
We should also push back against the worldly practice that has been described as the culture of dependency—the expectation that the extended family or the community or the government will provide what you desire with a minimum of effort on your part. As required by the spiritual growth that is the purpose of the plan of salvation, the gospel teaching of self-reliance pushes back against the idea or culture of dependency.
For example, you have been given a great education with knowledge and skills paid for in largest measure by the tithe-payers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believe in your great potential. Now it is your responsibility to use that potential and the many opportunities it will give you to support your families, to improve your nations and your communities, and to make life better for others. Serving others is the gospel way of pushing back against the worldly attitudes of dependency.
Don’t be part of the worldly attitude described in the characterization of your generation as the “me generation,” interested only in “what’s in it for me.” Always be willing to cooperate and even sacrifice in cooperative efforts for the benefit of the larger community.
We hear much about cleaning up the physical environment—air, water, and other essentials that are being polluted in a way that is poisoning the physical environment for all of us. We may choose to join in such efforts. But we who are responsible to push back against the world should be at least equally concerned about forces that are poisoning the moral environment. I refer to such moral pollutions as pornography. I also refer to language that pollutes public communications with profanity, vulgarity, and morally degrading coarseness. Push back against these kinds of pollutions also.
In all of these efforts, we can trust in the great promises of the Lord. He has taught us, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). He has also taught us that He does not ask anything of us except He prepares the way for us to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). He has shown us that while He may not immediately answer our prayers for relief, He will strengthen us to bear the burdens placed upon us (see Mosiah 24:14–15).
I have been speaking about pushing back against worldly values and practices that are contrary to gospel teachings and covenants. I now conclude by urging you to practice one worldly value that is consistent with the gospel culture. It is the importance of lifelong learning, which for us is promoted and directed by eternal priorities. Beyond increasing our occupational qualifications, we should desire to learn how to become more emotionally fulfilled, more skilled in our personal relationships, and better parents and citizens. There are few things more fulfilling and fun than learning something new. Greater happiness, satisfaction, and even temporal rewards come from this.
Our education should not be limited to formal study. Lifelong learning can increase our ability to appreciate and relish the workings and beauty of the world around us. This kind of learning goes well beyond books and a selective use of new technology, such as the internet. It includes artistic endeavors. It also includes experiences with people and places: conversations with friends; travel; visits to museums, plays, and concerts; and opportunities for service.
Graduates, expand yourselves and enjoy the journey. Remember the great counsel of our dear Elder Richard G. Scott, who said: “Now [look at] the brighter side. Despite pockets of evil, the world overall is majestically beautiful, filled with many good and sincere people. God has provided a way to live in this world and not be contaminated by the degrading pressures … spread throughout it.”3
2 G. T. Sewell, “Religion in the classroom: What the textbooks tell us, a report of the American Textbook Council” (1995), 17. Also see M. H. Romanowaki, “Addressing Christianity in American history: Are textbooks improving?” Mid-Western Educational Researcher, (2001), 21, 23–24. (“They simply mention religion … creating the impression that religion and faith have little to do with the development of U.S. history.”)