By Jillian Ogawa
After four years of papers and tests, Tara Haynie”s graduation day finally came.
“It was a surreal experience,” the business school graduate recalled of Thursday”s commencement. “Graduating was a goal for a long time, and when they played the pomp and circumstance, I realized they were playing it for me.”
Along with Haynie and the 4,621 students, former BYU President Merrill J. Bateman and his wife ended their BYU careers as well.
“It took us longer to graduate than most of you,” President Bateman said. “It is our prayer that you will be true to the spiritual foundations laid for you at this remarkable institution and that you will accept the challenge of becoming leaders in your communities.”
December, April and upcoming August graduates will make up a total of 9,300 students, a figure representing one-third of BYU student body and the largest number of graduates.
The oldest BYU student, 91-year-old C. Laird Snelgrove, was also part of the 2003 class. Snelgrove, who graduated in December, was honored with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish before he died in February.
Rachel Creswell and Linda Tilton completed their bachelor”s degrees, a goal they set more than 30 years ago, and walked with their children who were also graduating during the commencement.
Students receiving bachelor”s degrees averaged a 3.44 GPA and 50 percent of the graduates are married.
The school of Family, Home and Social Sciences had the most graduates with 886 students, followed by the School of Humanities and the Marriott School of Management.
As President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency presided over the commencement, President Bateman gave his final presidential challenge to the graduating class. President Bateman also awarded honorary doctorate degrees to Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and Dale Thomas Tingey who has worked to provide education opportunities for Native Americans.
President Bateman also awarded Pamela J. Atkinson a presidential citation, recognizing her worldwide service in nursing and health care for the poor and homeless.
In his final presidential challenge, President Bateman encouraged students to use their schooling at BYU to be effective leaders.
“What is your responsibility as you leave?” he asked. “First, you know the truth. In addition to the things of the earth, you have been taught eternal principles … your leadership is needed in this world if peace is to be realized.”
Elder Ballard also spoke to the students, reminding them the value of a BYU education isn”t known until it”s tested in the world. He related an anecdote of a failed business deal he had participated in and encouraged students to always listen to the promptings of the spirit.
“Exercise good judgment in all decisions,” he said. “Be a good listener, slow to judge, but quick to know all the facts. This will help you be a better leader, companion and church leader.”
The final speaker, President Monson, expressed his hope that graduates would never forget the lessons they learned at BYU. He encouraged students to “reject the rejection” and never settle for less than they can achieve.
As students left the Marriott Center Thursday, December graduate Spencer Haws was anxiously waiting for the ceremony to conclude.
“It was good to take the final step; it was a finale to my college career,” Haws said. “I was just glad it was over. As I was sitting with thousands of graduates, I was just waiting to go out to eat.”