Set Apart to Serve

Dean J. Scott Miller, Professor Corry L. Cropper and graduating student Tamara Pace Thompson spoke at this year’s April convocation for the College of Humanities, congratulating and encouraging the departing graduates.

IMG_8214PROVO, Utah (April 22, 2016)—As another semester ends, the College of Humanities congratulates its graduates, eager to see the good works they will produce beyond campus. At today’s convocation, the college awarded 327 bachelor degrees for April 2016 and 142 for December, as well as 23 and 16 graduate degrees, respectively.

For many graduates, the only memento of the ceremony will be the white tassel they wore on the caps. Dean J. Scott Miller spoke to the graduates about these tassels. The ornament was first used by students at Cambridge and Oxford to distinguish between rich and poor students. Today, tassels distinguish students not for their social class, but for achievement.

“Your tassel sets you apart from the common lot of the world,” he said, “but not necessarily so that you may lord it over others; rather, yours is a sign of ability, a credential allowing you to serve others even better.”

He added, “Wear your tassels with pride, as reminders of the privilege you now gain to go forth serving.”

Five years ago, Tamara Pace Thompson, who today graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English, would never have thought that a tassel was in her future. She was already married with children and had grown up opposed to the very idea of formal education. When her husband’s company went out of business, however, she prayed earnestly for guidance on how to deal with the loss. She related, “Unlike other times in my life when I mostly stumble about in search of inspiration, this prayer was answered as clearly as if someone was speaking directly to me – I was to go to school.”

IMG_7599Speaking before her fellow graduates, Thompson explained the difficult process of applying to BYU and being accepted, an outcome she described as nothing short of miraculous. She relied heavily on friends and family for their letters of recommendation, and continued to rely on others as she progressed through her studies. Having grown up convinced of her own self-reliance, Thompson gratefully realized the importance of a community of support. That base of support helped her to increase her own capabilities, improving in ways she could not have considered before on her own.

“I suspect that each of you who are graduating have a support system similar to mine,” she told the graduates. “As grand as our achievement is today, it is an achievement realized with the help of our families, our friends, our professors and our communities.”

That support is especially necessary as graduates go forth to serve in a world that is anything but straightforward. Humanities graduates will have to deal with the world’s ambiguity more than most. Corry L. Cropper, professor of French, told them, “As humanities graduates, you are moving on to become judges who do the hard work of reading the Constitution, translators who understand the value of nuance, managers who read through impersonal policies to find the human [and] gospel scholars who carefully teach the scriptures.”

Fortunately, these graduates have been specially trained to read and interpret texts. They recognize that context is crucial, that contradictions beget discussion and that simplistic interpretations should be questions. These skills, Cropper told them, will be key not only in professional spheres, but in spiritual ones as well. The Church is in need of members who do not shy away from challenges and promote faith-building study.

Cropper concluded, “I am convinced that there is enough ability in this room, particularly among this graduating class, to read skillfully and find answers in the scriptures to help the Church confront challenges, to read analytically and make your businesses more prosperous and more human, to read carefully and help your families flourish and prosper through hope in Christ.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)


Samuel covers events for the College of Humanities. He is a senior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.