Smiling faces, cheers and strong words met all in attendance at BYU commencement exercises Thursday, April 23.
Kicking off a weekend of recognition of students’ academic achievements, commencement featured addresses from Princeton Professor Robert P. George and former BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson, who were awarded honorary doctoral degrees. BYU President Kevin J Worthen conducted the meeting, with Elder Steven E. Snow presiding and providing the commencement speech.
“Think of yourself as a body at an Irish wake. Your presence is necessary in order to have the party, but no one expects you to say much,” Worthen joked during his opening remarks. He then said the mission of the school from the first graduating classes from Brigham Young Academy to today has remained the same: “To bring us nearer the platform of God.” Worthen recognized the recipients of more than 5,000 bachelor’s degrees, nearly 700 master’s degrees and 185 doctoral degrees.
Graduating students and their families filled the Marriott Center and enthusiastically received Samuelson and George.
George earned a master’s degree in theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford and holds numerous honorary doctorate degrees. He is known for voicing his conservative political views and promotes cooperation among people of faith. Introduced as a devout Catholic, George told the BYU audience that faith must be the formative element of both the university’s general activities and intellectual life.
He referred to faith and reason as the two wings that are equal ways to truth. “Just as both wings are necessary and must be working in order for the dove or eagle to fly, both faith and reason are necessary for the intellectual and spiritual quest and for intellectual life.”
George warned that without a genuine faith approach to all intellectual pursuits, the spiritual mission of any religious university would lose the power of its distinct character. “This is no time for faith-based colleges and universities to be sloughing off what makes them not only different but, in an important aspect, superior,” George said.
Samuelson was welcomed with a hearty “Woosh, Cecil!” by several in the audience, to which he delivered his trademark double thumbs up. Samuelson expressed his gratitude for recognition and his desire for the great work of the university to continue.
Elder Snow’s remarks were accompanied by clips of experts working to restore early church documents. As the historian and recorder for the LDS church, Elder Snow said preserving records helps members to remain faithful. He encouraged students to be grateful, generous, remember the importance of family and remember the role of faith in life.
“Remember to enjoy the journey,” Elder Snow said. “I truly believe, and I wish you a wonderful life as you leave here for the many wonderful adventures which lie ahead. ”