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Gratitude, Responsibility, and Faith

Audio: "Gratitude, Responsibility, and Faith"
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Commissioner Clark, President Eyring, members of the faculty and staff, graduates, spouses, parents, and friends: It is an honor to greet you and express some thoughts on this happy occasion. May I express greeting and congratulations on behalf of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those who serve on the Board of Trustees. All of them feel happiness in your happiness and share in your optimism today. All of us here present rejoice with you who have qualified to receive degrees and recognitions that reflect the culmination of countless hours of study and effort. We honor your commitment and sacrifices.

The cartoonist Garry Trudeau is purported to have said in a setting such as this, “Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”[1] I will try not to overdo it.

In addition to honoring you graduates, we honor those who have supported you, and I am confident that you would stand first in line to applaud and thank parents, friends, and others who have contributed so heavily to your success.

A sense of gratitude is critical to the success and joy you hope to experience as you now go forward with the balance of your life. Gratitude keeps you humble. Gratitude opens your eyes to the reality of God and the love of others. It makes the help you receive in life lift you up rather than lead you into dependency.

On the other hand, ingratitude leads to a sense of entitlement, or perhaps it is a reflection of an already existing sense of entitlement. Either way, a belief that the world or some other person, government, or entity is responsible for meeting your needs and ensuring your comfort and happiness is deadening. I am reminded of the simple poem of Civil War–era author and poet Stephen Crane:

A man said to the universe:

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the universe,

“The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation.”[2]

You know by virtue of all the work and personal effort that has brought you here today that your life is your responsibility. Your choices will ultimately make the difference for you. My counsel for you today is to accept responsibility—willingly, gladly, excitedly—for yourself, for what you are, and for what you may become, and in addition, for the influence you can wield in the world.

A crucial element of that personal responsibility is a sense of personal accountability to God. We each owe our creation and mortal life to Him. The capacity to live, to choose, and to act we owe to Him who “is preserving [us] from day to day, by lending [us] breath, that [we] may live and move and do according to [our] own will.”[3] We owe our redemption from death, both spiritual and physical, to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father sent His Son to “be lifted up upon the cross” so that, as the Savior explained, “as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.”[4]

There will be a Judgment Day, and faith in your Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ and Their right to rule in your life will lead you to do the right thing. It will also empower you to have their help, and with that help to dare and to do great things. My plea to you as you now go forward is to welcome your Heavenly Father, your Savior, and the Holy Spirit fully into your life. And not just welcome, but plead and strive for their promise to be realized that you might always have the Holy Spirit to be with you.

In Isaiah’s memorable words:

"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

"Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."[5]

Your generation and the one behind you are at times portrayed as increasingly anxious and often depressed. What seems to be a growing incidence of these symptoms or maladies is attributed to various causes, including poor diet (probably true in the case of college students), toxins in the air or water, over- or under-medicating, too little person-to-person interaction resulting from overuse of texting and social media, excessive video-gaming, “helicopter” parents, and disintegrating families. Some feel there is no significant increase in these conditions at all, just greater awareness and diagnosis. However accurate or inaccurate these assessments may be, one thing is certain—life without God often is fraught with fear and foreboding.

By contrast, confidence and equanimity come in making one’s life a shared undertaking with Deity. This means coupling faith in God and Christ with an energizing sense of personal responsibility. This concept is captured in the advice you have probably heard at different times: “Pray as though everything depended upon God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

The namesake of this university, Brigham Young, was a superb example of combined responsibility and faith. Consider, for example, the great western exodus he led. Some would accuse Brigham Young of being foolhardy, placing his people in danger by leading hundreds and thousands into an isolated wilderness where he himself had never set foot. However, he was not acting recklessly but rather with full confidence that the Lord would not let the undertaking fail. He once commented about this matter, asking the question “Is there any harm in having faith?”

We had to have faith to come here. When we met Mr. Bridger on the Big Sandy River, said he, "Mr. Young, I would give a thousand dollars if I knew an ear of corn could be ripened in the Great Basin." Said I, "Wait eighteen months and I will show you many of them." Did I say this from knowledge? No, it was my faith; but we had not the least encouragement—from natural reasoning and all that we could learn of this country—of its sterility, its cold and frost, to believe that we could ever raise anything. But we travelled on, breaking the road through the mountains and building bridges until we arrived here, and then we did everything we could to sustain ourselves. We had faith that we could raise grain; was there any harm in this? Not at all. . .I ask the whole world, is there any harm in having faith in God?[6]

My wife, Kathy, is of the opinion (and I agree with her) that Jim Bridger was right in his doubts about the ability of anyone to grow corn or other crops in the Salt Lake Valley as conditions then existed. Her conclusion is that the Lord modified the climate and soil conditions to permit a people to survive there. In any case, Brigham Young had the faith that if that were necessary, changes would occur and that, because it was the place the Lord had ordained for them, “the right place,” the Saints would not only survive, but prosper.

All of this, however, was based on the premise that the goal or course being undertaken was in harmony with the will of God. Brigham Young did not believe that God was obligated to help anyone in the achievement of a purpose in violation or unsupportive of what God ordained. Ronald K. Esplin, in his article “Fire in His Bones,” notes that Brigham Young first determined and became settled on what the will of God was, and thereafter, went forward applying all his talents and resources with the faith that God would grant success.

Following Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young was absolutely clear about priorities: first, the Saints must finish the Nauvoo Temple and receive the endowment there. Then they must seek a new home, the prophesied place of refuge in the West. For President Young, these goals required resolute attention. Indeed, so contagious was his enthusiasm that the pace of construction on the Nauvoo Temple increased dramatically under leadership of the Twelve.

Ironically, such rapid progress inflamed enemies who, fearing that it might be impossible to drive the Mormons from Nauvoo after they finished their beloved temple, vowed to drive them out first (History of the Church, 7:363). Faced with the probability of violence, in January 1845 Brigham Young momentarily hesitated; should they finish the temple even if it meant bloodshed? His diary records the answer: “I inquired of the Lord whether we should stay here and finish the temple. The answer was we should” (Brigham Young diary, 24 Jan. 1845, Church Archives; spelling modernized).

Confirmed in his course, President Young pressed forward with iron resolve. In May, the capstone was laid and the Twelve announced that endowments would begin in December, a timetable they kept. Brigham talked tough throughout this period, partly to intimidate enemies and prevent bloodshed, . . . and his faith that the Lord had dictated the direction and would oversee the outcome allowed him to act boldly.[7]

In Brigham Young’s faith, however, God supplied only what one could not, not what one would not. A person was entitled to have faith if he or she had done all that was within his or her power. On one occasion, in his colorful way, Brigham said:

"My faith does not lead me to think the Lord will provide us with roast pigs, bread already buttered. He will give us the ability to raise the grain, to obtain the fruits of the earth, to make habitations, to procure a few boards to make a box, and when harvest comes, giving us the grain, it is for us to preserve it."[8]

"I have faith in my God, and that faith corresponds with the works I produce. I have no confidence in faith without works."[9]

On another occasion, he further described this interrelationship of works and faith:

"If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel of salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow, without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and to ask my Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, to sanctify that application to the healing of my body. . .

"But supposing we were traveling in the mountains, and all we had or could get, in the shape of nourishment, was a little venison, and one or two were taken sick, without anything in the world in the shape of healing medicine within our reach, what should we do? According to my faith, ask the Lord Almighty to send an angel to heal the sick. This is our privilege, when so situated that we cannot get anything to help ourselves. Then the Lord and his servants can do all. But it is my duty to do, when I have it in my power."[10]

I have spoken of gratitude, personal responsibility, and faith in God and Christ. If each of these abound in your life, I have no fear for your future. Yes, challenges of many kinds will come. None of us escape them entirely; it was not meant to be otherwise. But with these qualities, you will surmount your challenges and avoid much unnecessary adversity. President Russell M. Nelson has taught:

"As conflicts between nations escalate, as cowardly terrorists prey on the innocent, and as corruption in everything from business to government becomes increasingly commonplace, what can help us? What can help each of us with our personal struggles and with the rigorous challenge of living in these latter days?

". . . We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year!

". . . When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, . . . and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” (Hymns, #201). And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!"[11]

You can rely on the love of your Heavenly Father, the grace of His Only Begotten Son, and the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. They are real. They live. They know you, and They love you. Draw upon Their help, answer to Them for your life, and be a pillar of strength and resilience for others. Be grateful for the constant blessings that flow to you, even the breath of each moment.[12] Once again, congratulations, and God bless you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Garry Trudeau, quoted in Incoming: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases (San Diego: Icon Group International, 2008), 3

[2] Stephen Crane;

[3] Mosiah 2:21

[4] 3 Nephi 27:14

[5] Isaiah 40:29-31

[6] “Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, May 29th, 1870,” Deseret News (June 8, 1870), 212

[7] Ronald K. Esplin, “Fire in His Bones,” Ensign, Mar. 1993, 45-46

[8] “Discourse by President Brigham Young, Tabernacle, G.S.L. City, Sunday Afternoon, May 15, 1864,” Deseret News (June 15, 1864), 294

[9] “Discourse by President Brigham Young, Bowery, Sunday Morning, August 17, 1856,” Deseret News (September 10, 1856), 212

[10] “Discourse by President Brigham Young, Bowery, Sunday Morning, August 17, 1856,” Deseret News (September 10, 1856), 212

[11] Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, Nov. 2016, 82

[12] Mosiah 2:21