BYU president Kevin J Worthen encouraged the 5,863 graduating students to “be awful” in his April 2017 commencement address Thursday, April 27.
President Worthen explained how the meaning of words can change dramatically over time and gave the example of pejoration — the process by which a word with a positive or neutral meaning attains negative connotations over time.
“Centuries ago, ‘awful’ had a very positive connotation. Its original meaning was ‘awe-inspiring, worthy of respect and profoundly respectful and reverential,'” President Worthen said.
President Worthen’s admonition to graduates was to be awful in its original, unpejorated meaning. His second charge was, ‘Don’t pejorate; ameliorate’ — the process by which words acquire a positive connotation.
“As each of you graduate from BYU, you will carry with you your good name and the good name of this university,” President Worthen said. “Don’t do anything to pejorate your name or the name of this university.”
The student speaker for the commencement was Thomas James Stone, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and minor degrees in mathematics and political science.
Stone shared an experience he witnessed while participating as a member of Team USA in the Triathlon Age Group World Championships last September.
Two of the triathletes competing in the finals, Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, were brothers. With 500 meters to go, Jonny collapsed on a volunteer on the sidelines. Alistair saw his younger brother collapse and ran back to help him. This deviation cost him the first-place finish.
“Rather than race to the end and claim victory for himself, he slowed, picked up his brother and enabled Johnny to do something he could not do for himself,” Stone said.
Stone said the graduation ceremony marked the graduates’ plunge into the race of life.
“There will most likely be times in this race when we, too, will be forced to make the decision between helping someone else or getting ahead,” Stone said. “Just as Alistair sacrificed to stop and help his brother, we can and should make sacrifices in our own lives to help those who are struggling along the way.”
Following Stone’s remarks, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne received an honorary Doctor of International Leadership and Humanitarian Service degree.
“I stand humbly to become one of your newest alumni of one of the most prestigious universities in the globe,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson spoke of the shared common values she and BYU hold to bring about good in the world. She spoke of her recent experience in Mosul when she met a poor, abused boy. One of her colleagues took a picture of the boy, and when the boy saw the picture he smiled.
Nicholson called the experience “a wonderful moment to remind us all that saving just one life, giving that little boy hope, is worth all the effort that we can put in.”
Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy shared three life secrets with the graduates in the final address.
First, God has given everyone both time and the opportunity to choose what to do with it.
“The common denominator is that neither of these conditions are permanent,” Elder Foster said.
The second secret was to “know who you are in relation to God and each other.”
Elder Foster shared a story of a track and field event for children with disabilities. One contestant in the 100-meter dash fell down and began to cry. Two of the other children turned back, helped the fallen boy up, joined arms and walked to the finish line together.
“These children knew who they really are and what winning really means,” Elder Foster said.
The third secret Elder Foster shared was to ‘never love anything that can’t love you back..
“Happiness is not measured in zeros, but in relationships,” Elder Foster said.
Approximately 4,970 students received bachelor’s degrees, 720 received master’s degrees and 173 received doctorate degrees. The graduating class represented 50 states, 3 territories and 67 foreign countries.