PROVO — "Look beyond yourself."
That was the advice Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would tell himself if he could go back 40 years and give his younger, college-graduating self some advice.
"Don't have yourself, your accomplishments, or your fears as your treasure; rather, focus on others and their needs," he told Brigham Young University graduates on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking to the 2,095 graduates and their supporters in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus, Elder Nielson urged them to look outside themselves to help others.
"You will have very busy lives," he said. "You are going to have meaningful employment, kids, church callings, hobbies and recreation, as well as disappointment, fear, stress and anxiety. Be sure that included in all of that you coach little league baseball, that you shovel your neighbor's driveway, that you hold the door open for the person behind you, that you share your talents and put down your phone."
The main takeaway — "If you lose your life, you will find it."
Sharing the experience he had at a recent high school reunion, where much of the conversations of his classmates revolved around current health conditions, Elder Nielson spoke of the need to take inventory of the health of one's heart.
During a recent surgery on his neck, Elder Nielson said his heart began to beat out of rhythm, causing "heart arrhythmia." Ultimately, doctors had to send a powerful shockwave through his body to get his heart to regain its rhythm. The surgery was a success and his heart recovered, but he was left with strict instructions to take heart medication daily.
"Why have I told you that long story?" he asked. "I am concerned about the condition of your heart as you graduate today."
Recognizing how easy it is to withdraw from helping and lifting others, Elder Nielson warned graduates not to get too caught up in their own lives.
"It is so easy to worry only about yourself — new jobs, promotions, advanced degrees and even your fears," he said. "You will find that it is easy to place yourself, and at times your fears, as your treasure. … If you do that, your heart will fail you."
Like his need to take medication every day to keep his heart in rhythm, Elder Nielson spoke of taking care of one's heart through finding opportunities to regularly serve others.
To those whose hearts are out of rhythm, Elder Nielson encouraged them to have a "symbolic cardioversion" to shift their focus away from their own concerns.
"Today, instead of 40 years from today, take a moment to think about the condition of your heart."
For Cami Robison, a graduate in recreational therapy and management, a "heart check" and a reminder to serve others were powerful lessons to add to an already impactful day. The grad spent began her day rock climbing with patients of a treatment facility nearby — her last assignment on the final day of her internship.
"We talked with the boys about understanding and overcoming trials and figuring out their purpose," she said.
The words shared during graduation just added to the day's conversation, she said.
"I loved Elder Nielson's question of asking how our hearts are," she said. "It helped me realize it is important to focus on more than just myself."
Other speakers during the meeting included BYU President Kevin J Worthen, BYU Alumni Association president Jonathan O. Hafen and graduate Ashton R. Omdahl.
During his remarks, President Worthen spoke of one of the Provo campus' most iconic symbols — the "Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve" sign.
"With full understanding that I am not being original, I would like to focus on this saying one more time in a graduation setting because I believe that, notwithstanding the constant repetition, we may underestimate the depth of its importance and meaning."
The sign has been part of the BYU campus since 1965, when the university invited faculty members and others to "submit a slogan or motto which would be suitable to be placed at the main entrance."
Stewart Grow, a professor of history and political science, offered the saying. Although he is not the original author and other schools have used the same slogan as their motto, there is significance of its message, President Worthen said.
A BYU education should lead to two things — lifelong learning and service, he said.
Convocations for the various colleges are scheduled at various times throughout the day on Friday.