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Holocaust survivor urges BYU grads to reach out

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PROVO — Rep. Tom Lantos knows what it is like to be persecuted for his beliefs.

And Lantos, the sole Holocaust survivor to serve as a U.S. congressman, told some 4,644 Brigham Young University graduates Thursday to create a world in which no one feels disenfranchised because of their skin color or religious beliefs.

Lantos, D-California, who was given an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the school is a "remarkably homogenous place."

While such a "shared sense of community is priceless," Lantos says, there "is a danger in being focused on those with the same values and beliefs."

All members of society have a responsibility to reach out and befriend those who don't share the same beliefs, he said.

"As you go out from this magnificent but very sheltered place, you will face a world where many don't share your faith and values," said Lantos, who was 16 when Nazi Germany occupied his native Hungary in 1944.

"Some will be different colors, races, faiths and colors," he said. "But if you always remember they are brothers and sisters, you will reach a level of enlightenment few of us have the privilege of doing."

The nine-term Democratic congressman escaped from a labor camp and returned to his home in Budapest. He is one of five Holocaust survivors featured in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning documentary, "The Last Days."

In addition to Lantos' honor, BYU also gave honorary doctorates to LDS Church Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin and former Salt Lake Tribune publisher J.W. "Jack" Gallivan.

Lloyd D. George, a Nevada federal judge and BYU alumnus, received a Presidential Citation during the 4 p.m. exercises in the Marriott Center.

Graduates will receive degrees at convocation ceremonies today.

Elder Wirthlin, who has been an apostle of the church since 1986, advised graduates to work hard, serve neighbors willingly and remain faithful to the church's teachings.

"Whatever your honorable work may be, give it the best that is in you. Let your name always be associated with diligent effort and uncompromising quality," he said.

"Even when there appears to be no reward. Even when it appears no one is watching. If you give the best of yourself to your labors, you will be rewarded tenfold."

BYU President Merrill J. Bateman also urged graduates to remain committed to faith, family and community.

"The world has a shortage of intact, quality families where husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and children find love, peace and safety from the storm of life," he said.

"I challenge you to become a positive influence in the community in which you choose to live."

E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com