Elder Clark G. Gilbert explains how we can draw strength from our Savior and find Christ’s peace in perilous times.
This speech was given on February 8, 2022.
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It is impossible for me to express how much I love this university. Part of that love is tied to how I experienced BYU even before I arrived on campus. I was raised in a great community, but one in which I was often seen as a religious minority. By a show of hands, how many of you grew up where your beliefs were sometimes challenged by others around you? BYU can serve as a refuge and a source of strength for a season in what will certainly be a lifetime of standing up for your beliefs and values.
I had so much fun in high school participating in dances, student government, and athletics. But I sometimes found my beliefs belittled, even in environments that claimed to be inclusive.
At one student assembly, I was invited to participate in a dating game in front of the entire school. It soon became clear that every question I was asked was designed to make fun of me for my choices in media, beverages, and dating. I was being mocked for what I held most dear.
Now admittedly, when they asked for my favorite song, I thought, “Well, I can play along with this,” and I answered jokingly, “I Am a Child of God.”1
Everyone in the auditorium laughed, and I thought I was quite clever—right until they asked me to sing it. So, at age seventeen, I performed “I Am a Child of God” in front of my entire high school!
Long before I came to BYU, the idea of attending a university where people shared my values inspired a hope in me to hang on through high school. Arriving at BYU was so exciting. I met friends who became examples to me for the rest of my life. And while there was a fun spark to those early friendships, their lasting impact was tied to the gospel itself. No one was perfect, but most of us were trying to do our best to become something more in Christ, and we were grateful for BYU’s impact in that effort. Of course I also met my wife, Christine, at BYU. She won my heart with her kindness, her depth of character, her ability to nurture, and her love for the gospel. We were married during our last semester, and our wedding reception was held here on this campus.
At BYU, I also met faculty who understood the school’s unique spiritual mission. I sat in the Maeser Building auditorium riveted by John S. Tanner, a future BYU academic vice president and eventual BYU–Hawaii president. He taught us how great literature from Milton, Dante, Dostoevsky, and others could be illuminated by the gospel and, in turn, add insight to our own belief. I studied international theory in BYU’s Kennedy Center under a young Jeffrey F. Ringer, who is now an associate international vice president at BYU. I marveled as he articulately explained how the diversity of scholarship in higher education was strengthened by communities of faith such as BYU.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was the president of BYU during my freshman year. One day as I was running toward the Jesse Knight Building, President Holland was walking down the steps from the Administration Building. As any exuberant freshman might, I yelled, “Hello, President Holland!” to which he replied, “Hello, Clark Gilbert from Phoenix, Arizona!”
I about fell over! He seemed to know all of us. As president, Elder Holland spoke with such spiritual clarity on the university’s destiny that you knew you were in a special place.2 Rex E. Lee was the BYU president after my mission. During his time as the U.S. solicitor general, President Lee had argued nearly sixty cases before the Supreme Court. His ability to craft a well-reasoned defense pushed me to deepen my own thinking and learning. He also inspired us to replenish what we had been given at BYU.3
All of these leaders—from university presidents to faculty and even to my peers—taught me that at BYU we can perform at the highest levels, engage with the world, and never compromise our values or beliefs. In fact, BYU taught me that we can do this not in spite of our faith but because of it.
A Unique University
These reflections are not meant to be overly nostalgic; they are meant to communicate what a sacred seat you sit in.
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