Speaking to an audience of more than 700 people gathered Saturday for commencement exercises on the front lawn of historic Main Hall at Southern Virginia University, Elder Marlin K. Jensen congratulated and thanked the 103 members of the class of 2009 for their efforts to learn and grow as they pursued their bachelor ¹s degrees.
Elder Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the official historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then counseled the graduates, who had finished final exams, papers and projects in the preceding week, that their ultimate final would come in 60 or 70 years.
“In that moment all of this will have its meaning and it purpose and its place, but honestly in that moment only one thing will really be important,” he said. “In that moment when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ… if we have been true leader-servants, if we have worried about the welfare of others, if we have not sought our own, and if we have spent our life and our energies and our talents to help “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life,” of God¹s children, true happiness will be ours.
Among Saturday¹s 103 graduates are three married couples, a set of twin brothers and triplet sisters. The graduates range in age from 20 to 47 and they come from 24 states and from as far as Ghana. Nearly 40 percent of the graduates are married. The greatest number (29) added to the foundation they received from Southern Virginia¹s liberal arts curriculum by majoring in business management and leadership. One graduate, Jonathan Graves, from Montrose, Colo., triple majored in art, philosophy, and business management and leadership.
Three graduating seniors spoke during the ceremony, including the valedictorian and salutatorian and a student who auditioned for the opportunity.
In her remarks, Salutatorian Erin Davis, from Heber City, Utah, said that Southern Virginia¹s liberal arts curriculum helped her understand something about living the good life.
“The books I was reading–the Illiad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Inferno, Paradise Lost, King Lear –were all written long before there were computers or cell phones, and yet they taught me lessons about life that no chat room ever could.”
The commencement exercises included the commissioning of one Southern Virginia graduate as an officer in the United States Army. Jared Law who has participated in the ROTC program affiliated with the Virginia Military Institute, took the oath to become a second lieutenant in the army, where he will serve as an intelligence officer.
“The oath is the same as politicians in our country take,” said U.S. Army Colonel Harold H Worrell, Jr., who oversaw Lieutenant Law¹s commissioning.
During his remarks, Elder Jensen recounted attending commencement exercises at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, in 2000 at which the industrialist and philanthropist Jon M. Hunstman, Sr., laid aside his prepared remarks and gave a one-sentence speech: “No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting another up.” After asking the graduates to stand and repeat the sentence with him, he concluded by announcing that he and his wife would donate a seven-figure sum to the university. The standing ovation Huntsman received exceeded the length of his talk four or five times. Elder Jensen emulated Huntsman and, after repeating the short sentence, handed Southern Virginia President Rodney K. Smith a check for a much smaller amount “in the mid-three-figure range.” The audience responded with thunderous laughter and applause.
Senior class president, Ben Burningham, from Richmond, Utah, and his wife Holly, from Henderson, Nevada, were among Saturday¹s graduates. Burningham announced during the ceremony that the senior class gift included an air-hockey table and a pledge from the senior class to make individual donations to the university each and every year. He also called on future classes to follow their example so that the university can continue to develop and grow.
Elder Jensen commended the university for its mission statement and showed that he had taken the time to memorize the first paragraph: “Our mission is to prepare leader-servants in the workplace and the world, in the community and the church, and in the home.”
“I can conceive personally of no more noble reason to become educated than to become a leader and a servant,” he said. “Combine these two qualities, concern about the welfare of others and a willingness to assist them in unfolding their God-given capacities, and you have a leader-servant.”