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Focus, Center, Then Recenter, Elder Palmer Tells BYU Graduates

Focus on what you can control, center your faith and life on Jesus Christ, and recenter on Him often, the Seventy says

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By Jason Swensen, Church News


Focus. Center. Recenter. These three action words anchored a trio of tips shared by Elder S. Mark Palmer to the more than 6,800 students graduating Thursday, April 21, from Brigham Young University.

The event, hosted inside a packed Marriott Center, marked a welcome return to a traditional commencement exercise at the Church-sponsored university following a pause in such gatherings during the pandemic.

First, Focus on What You Can Control

In the summer in 2020, Elder Palmer, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, was enjoying an unexpected lunch with President Russell M. Nelson. The COVID-19 pandemic was causing fear and suffering in the African nations where Elder Palmer was serving, so he asked the Church president if he had a personal message for the African Saints he was serving.

President Nelson “paused thoughtfully and then gave this profound answer: ‘Tell them that some things are out of our control. So we should focus on those things that we can control. Specifically, how we live our lives. We need to live our lives in such a way that we are always ready to meet our Maker.’”

Many of Thursday’s freshly minted BYU grads are likely anxious about an uncertain future. They will have little control over wars, pandemics, inflation or recessions or even how they will be treated by a boss or coworker.

“But you can control whether you respond to such events with faith or with fear,” said Elder Palmer. “I have watched our Prophet and Apostles respond to crises and suffering with deep emotion. But never with fear. The Savior taught us to ‘be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you’” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6).

A person can also control how he or she treats others, especially those who are disagreeable. Focus on applying “these radical teachings” of Jesus Christ: Love your enemies. Pray for them. Forgive all.

“Let us choose to live our lives by focusing on what we can control, rather than what we cannot control,” he said.

Elder S. Mark Palmer of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks at the April 21, 2022, Brigham Young University graduation exercises at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.All rights reserved.


Second, Center Your Faith and Life on Jesus Christ

More than three decades ago, then-Elder Howard W. Hunter made a profound promise to BYU students: “If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.”

So, asked Elder Palmer, what does a Christ-centered life look like?

“A Christ-centered life is being faithful to covenants. It is loving and serving others. A Christ-centered life rejoices in eternal family relationships. It prioritizes the riches of eternity over the riches of the world. A Christ-centered life humbly accepts that ‘to be learned is good, if [we] hearken unto the counsels of God’ (2 Nephi 9:29).

“A Christ-centered life is full of joy.”

Newly minted Brigham Young University graduates arrive at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on April 21, 2022, for graduation exercises. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.All rights reserved.

Elder Palmer acknowledged that troubles and challenges visit everyone at some point.

Twelve years ago, his own daughter, Jasmine, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That difficult news left Elder Palmer and his wife, Sister Jacqueline Ann Palmer, feeling helpless and confused. After much prayer, he received a defining answer.

“I felt an answer that, no matter the outcome, I must go forward with faith and trust in Jesus Christ. All I could do was surrender my will to His. Eventually, a sense of peace came, and my pleading prayer changed to a prayer of thanks. I thanked God for His love and for the blessings of the gospel in our lives.”

Since then, Jasmine has endured uncertainty and difficult medical treatments. But she also experienced the miracles of marriage and children. Through it all, she has centered her life on Christ.

“She too shares in the assurance that no matter what happens in the future, nothing will ever go permanently wrong, thanks to eternal covenants made with a loving God,” said Elder Palmer.


Third, Recenter Often

A GPS or mapping app delivers a “recenter” message whenever its user drifts off track from a desired destination.

“On our journey to eternal life, there will be times when we get off course and need to recenter our lives on Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. Recentering is a lifelong process,” he said.

As President Nelson often teaches, “recentering” occurs by repenting daily, partaking of the sacrament, attending the temple and learning to hear Him.

Elder Palmer added: “These are the very ways we recenter our lives and stay focused on the covenant path leading to eternal life.”

Many of the Book of Mormon’s most powerful holy men — Nephi, Moroni and Helaman — left similar counsel to their readers and loved ones: Believe in Christ and build one’s foundation on the Lord.

“As you leave with diplomas in hand, I invite you to focus on what is within your control, to center your faith and your life on Jesus Christ and His gospel, and as needed from time to time, to recenter your life on Him,” he concluded. “I promise that doing so will lead to true and lasting joy.”

Elder Palmer’s tips were welcome counsel for Elías Bobadilla Valencia, an accountancy graduate from Connecticut.

“What resonated with me is the reminder that what I control, more than anything in my life, is my response to my situations,” he said. “I want to always choose peace and love, especially as a disciple of Christ — knowing I represent Him, my family and BYU.”

President Worthen: The Power of the ‘Propinquity Effect

In his Thursday commencement remarks, BYU President Kevin J Worthen taught the “propinquity effect” — a phenomenon which explains the tendency of individuals to form close relationships with people they repeatedly encounter.

Graduates, he added, can do three things to make “propinquity” a more positive factor in their lives.

First, consciously seek in-person contact with others.

Brigham Young University President Kevin J Worthen applauds the school’s graduating Class of 2022 during graduation exercises on April 21, 2022, in Provo, Utah. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.All rights reserved.

“In a world where relationships are increasingly ephemeral and digital, it is important to take the time and effort to visit face-to-face where the propinquity effect can have full positive impact.”

Second, consciously seek positive in-person interaction “with those with whom you disagree.”

People are increasingly polarized with respect to their views on almost every issue. But interacting with those whose opinions are different can foster trust and respect.

“If our in-person interaction with those with whom we disagree includes serving with them in some common endeavor, the relationship will deepen and be more enduring. … Frequent close interaction while serving others will not only bless those we serve, but also create bonds of propinquity that will help us deal positively with our differences.”

And third and most important, the “propinquity effect” can have a deep impact if applied to one’s relationship with the Savior.

“While literal, physical face-to-face contact with Christ may be rare during our mortal existence, Christ invites us to have regular and frequent close communication and contact with Him, with the promise that our relationship with Him will deepen and strengthen as a result,” President Worthen said.


Thursday’s speakers also included new graduate Emilee L. Carr and BYU Alumni Association representative Karen Bybee.

Carr encouraged her fellow BYU graduates to seek ways to mentor others and brighten their days, no matter one’s own circumstances.

“If you find yourself skipping, look for someone sitting on the curb. If you’re crawling through an icy patch, don’t be afraid to cling to the ones gliding until you get your footing back,” she said.

Bybee encouraged her new fellow alums to be a “unique light” to bless the lives of others. “We hope that your BYU experience has been your laboratory, educationally and spiritually; one that has prepared you well to benefit the world in ways you may not be able to imagine today.

“The world needs what you have to offer.”

With Elder Palmer presiding, the school presented 6,876 degrees to student from 49 states — no graduates from Rhode Island — and 65 foreign countries.

BYU graduates gather outside the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on April 21, 2022, prior to graduation exercises. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.All rights reserved.

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