President Worthen conducts his last Commencement ceremony as university president

A graduate gets their photo taken outside of the Marriott Center. The Marriott Center hosted the 2023 Commencement ceremony on Thursday morning. (Megan Brugger)

BYU graduates gathered in the Marriott Center on Thursday, April 27 to celebrate Commencement as speakers shared thoughts on joy, gratitude and agency.

President Worthen welcomed students, friends and family to the ceremony one last time as he prepares to be released from his position as university president next month. President Worthen conducted the ceremony, with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve presiding.

Among the speakers at the event were President Worthen, President of the BYU Alumni Association Hillary Nielsen, sociology graduate Samuel Barnes Benson, Honorary Degree recipient Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal and Elder Christofferson.

In his remarks, President Worthen expounded upon the history and purpose of the exclamation point, relating it to students by explaining three valuable lessons he hopes the graduates will remember whenever they see an exclamation point.

“First, when you see an exclamation point and reflect on its function and history, I hope you think of the importance of creating space in your daily life for things that give you eternal perspective,” President Worthen said.

Although there is some dispute about the precise origin of the exclamation point, one author proposed that the history of the exclamation point came from the Latin exclamation for joy, “io,” where the “I” was written above the “O.” Because all letters in Latin were capitalized, the “I” with an “O” beneath it looks like the modern exclamation point.

Second, he expressed his hope that when graduates see an exclamation point, they recognize there is something in our eternal DNA that wants to celebrate the good things that happen.

Citing the punctuation mark’s highly contested presence in the literary world, President Worthen said he lastly hopes when graduates see an exclamation point, they recognize the need for resilience in their lives.

“The exclamation point should remind us that, as someone once said, ‘everything will be okay in the end; so, if it’s not okay, it’s not the end,’” President Worthen said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, the audience gave President and Sister Worthen a standing ovation.

President of the BYU Alumni Association Hillary Nielsen discussed the importance of gratitude for BYU’s “unique spiritually infused education” and encouraged students to connect with BYU alumni associations wherever they go, using their BYU education and connections for good.

“It is my hope that you generously contribute your time, talent and when possible — treasure, as you actively seek opportunities to utilize your BYU education to benefit others,” Nielsen said.

Samuel Barnes Benson, the ceremony’s student speaker, described the “imposter syndrome” he and other fellow graduates have felt during their time at BYU and now as they graduate. Benson then discussed the importance of building Zion and a beloved community above all other pursuits.

“We sit together today as graduates six thousand strong with distinct skills and experiences and identities,” Benson said.

He emphasized that Zion is a place where everyone’s unique talents and skills are valued.

“In Zion, there are no imposters or frauds. We all belong,” Benson said.

Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal was the recipient of the Honorary Doctorate of Christian Service and Education. Chaplain and Fellow of Pembroke College and lecturer of religion at Oxford University, Teal also acts as the Warden of the largest Anglican convent and religious order in England, the Sisters of the Love of God.

In his remarks, Teal focused on what is meant by the term “excellence.”

“Excellence beckons all of us, however far we are in our journeys, to keep on traveling further. Excellence takes us on hard and steep paths — to integrity and trustworthiness,” Teal said.

Teal concluded by expressing his gratitude for BYU’s commitment to pursuing the “elusive quality of excellence,” and encouraged graduates to pair their individual priorities with social responsibility in the service of the common good.

The ceremony’s concluding remarks were given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. Following his expression of gratitude for President and Sister Worthen and Reverend Dr. Teal, Elder Christofferson discussed the importance of preserving and promoting agency.

“You, the graduates we honor today, have come of age at a time when agency and accountability are, to say the least, underappreciated,” Elder Christofferson said.

Elder Chritsofferson attributed the under-appreciation of agency to trends that deny the reality of individual moral agency and societal conditions that impair the effective exercise of individual agency. He then urged students to preserve and wisely exercise their own moral agency, as well as the moral agency of others.

“I testify that our precious agency originates with God, our Father. In the gift of His Son, He has redeemed mankind from the fall, and ‘[we] have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon,’ … Never forget that it is because of Jesus Christ and His Atonement that we can act to choose God and His righteousness,” Elder Christofferson said.

Cale Kimball, a graduate receiving his bachelor’s degree in strategic management, appreciated Reverend Dr. Teal’s well-informed thoughts and appreciated the standing ovation President and Sister Worthen received.

“I thought it was really lovely when everyone stood up and clapped for the Worthens. That was a really sweet moment,” Kimball said.

Brynn Hoggan, a graduate receiving environmental science and Spanish degrees, related particularly to Samuel Benson’s remarks.

“I especially loved the student speaker’s comments on belonging in Zion and imposter syndrome. That was really timely and something that impacts me. The whole ceremony made me feel like I’m part of something important,” Hoggan said.

Individual convocation ceremonies for each college were held Thursday and will continue Friday, April 28.

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