RICKS COLLEGE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
The return of Thomas E. Ricks
It’s good to come back to Rexburg. My, my, it has changed since I first came here in ’83. (Now that’s 1883 for you young fellers out there.) We came in the winter that year, and there was 18 inches of snow on the ground. And it was cold! That spring we had to build canals, ferries, bridges, roads and a meeting house and survey the town site. And it was muddy! My, it has changed.
Here just north of us, we surveyed and plotted out the first 10 blocks of our town site. Back then each block consisted of four lots of 2 ½ acres each, and a person could pick up a lot for only $3.13 a piece. I hear the price has gone up a little since then. And looking around, I’m amazed at how many homes they are putting on those lots. I keep wondering where a soul will keep his cow and pigs and chickens. Why, there’s no room at all on these little lots any more.
We built the first home in Rexburg, you know. It was a one room, 15' x 18' log home. It had a dirt roof, and it wasn’t very nice compared to what my wife Elizabeth Jane left in Cache Valley. But I built her a nicer four-room, frame house with real shingles for the next winter.
Yup, Rexburg has changed a lot. After I passed on, they named the town after me, you know–using the German version of Ricks, which was Rex. Actually, I was embarrassed about the whole thing.
I must admit that I had already lived a long life by the time I came to the Upper Snake. But life had been good to me. I was born in 1828 in Western Kentucky. (Are any of you here that old? A couple of these faculty look like they could be.)
I knew the Prophet, Joseph Smith, you know. I met him in 1843 in Nauvoo with my father when I was just a boy of 14. I personally heard him prophecy that the Saints would ". . . be scattered, and established by themselves in the Rocky Mountains."
I was baptized into the Church when I was16, and I attended the first conference of the Church held in the Nauvoo Temple in October of 1845. I even worked on that temple. It was something to see as you came up the Mississippi, rounded the bend, and saw it there gleaming white up on the bluff.
When I was 17, I was ordained an elder. We did things different in those days. Why, a man was a man by the time he was 15 or 16 then.
Well that’s enough about me. I hear that some of my grandchildren and great grandchildren might be here today—the few who are left. And that many of my great, great grandchildren are here—and even some of my great, great, great grandchildren. Could that be possible? President—what’s your name again, young feller? Yes, yes, Bednar. Would it be appropriate to have them stand? How about grandchildren first. Are any of them here? Good, good. Now, what about great grandchildren? Now how about great, great grandchildren? And are there any great, great, great grandchildren? Please, please, any of you who are part of our family, stand right up. Wonderful, wonderful!
I’d like to get to visit with you all. I know you all come from one of my dear wives. I imagine that some of you are Tabitha’s descendants, others are from Tamar, and others from Jane, or Ruth or Ellen Marie. My, my what handsome children you are.
I’ve been told that I eventually had 238 grandchildren, and I have also been told that I had 700-800 great grandchildren and over 4,000 great, great grandchildren, and who knows how many great, great, great grandchildren. I decided that this year, 2001, would be a good time to come back and visit my school and see what you’ve done with it.. It was 100 years ago when I left here for good—1901, September, it was. I was 73 years old at the time. I just checked out of this life and went to the next. I want you to know it’s nice there too. Beautiful, all the time. You’ll like it.
Well, enough of that. I decided to come when I got wind that they were planning to take down my building—the old rock one. We put a lot of sweat and tears into that building. Cost us a lot of money, too. I and a few others raised $40,000 to help build it. That was a lot of money then, you know.
I and several others were aware that it caught on fire when they tried to bring it down last fall. Jacob Spori, Douglas Todd, A. B. Christensen, and John Clarke, and others. We all had pretty fond memories of that grand old building. I hear that they are going to replace it with a building that will look a lot like the original structure. That would please us. We sure loved that old building.
I heard, too, that they are going to make this school a four-year school. That was done back in ’48, too, you know. It didn’t last but a few years then, but I guess they know what they are doing.
I even heard that they are going to change the name of the college to BYU-Idaho. That’s something! It doesn’t bother me though. Gosh, I was embarrassed when they named it after me in the first place. Brigham Young! That’s okay.
I knew Brigham Young, too, you know. I was there when he organized the mass exodus from Nauvoo in February of 1846. Oh, it was cold. The Mississippi froze solid it was so cold. I followed Brother Brigham on the ice across the Mississippi. It was something to see, those hundreds of wagons and horses and cattle and people crossing that frozen river. I still remember how cold it was. But I supported him then, and I support him now.
I followed him across the plains too. He was quite a leader. I had to wait a year to leave until 1848 after Brother Brigham came back from Utah and told us all about it. I was in Heber Kimball’s group, and we were right behind Brother Brigham’s group that year. On the way, we had a little run-in with the Indians. I was shot three times. The Lord preserved my life though. Brother Heber gave me a blessing. I carried those three balls with me on my backside all through my mortal life, and I didn’t get rid of them until I got over on the other side.
Brother Brigham called me on a couple of missions in those early years in Utah. He even asked me to take a second wife. You young folks don’t know how much faith and courage that took. It was a hard thing for my wife Tabitha to accept and for me to do. But I did it because Brother Brigham said it was right and I believed him. He was a prophet, you know. I knew it and so did the other saints. You could see it in his eyes.
No, I feel okay about this name change. Brigham Young University-Idaho. That’s okay. And by the way, I feel Brother Brigham would feel okay about it too. He might be embarrassed about it, but I think he would be pleased. Downright pleased.
Well, I guess I should be giving you some counsel now that you are graduating from our school. I guess the question I’d like to ask you is, "What are you going to do with your education?" There should be a value to one’s education. Our people felt that way back when we founded this school. That’s why we started this it in the first place. And we wanted a school where we could even teach the principles of the multiplication tables in the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we so desired. And we did, and I hear the faculty here are still doing that.
Over the years we kept stressing that concept as we progressed from an elementary to a secondary school and then to a college–even after I was gone. And I hear it is still so today! We created this school under the direction of the First Presidency, and it’s still operated under their leadership and direction. That’s why I know you have an education–and a good one. Those Brethren would never have let this school proceed if it weren’t doing what the Lord wanted it to do.
So you can leave here and go wherever you want—in the work force, to other colleges or universities—and you can hold your heads up high and you can compete with the best of them. That’s the value of your education from Ricks College. And some of you will stay on as it becomes BYU-Idaho and continue your education here, and you’ll do fine too. The Brethren will see that you get the finest education possible here.
Now, what I hope for you, however, is that you’ve also learned some other things here. How to become people of integrity—honest people, fair-minded people, dependable, and faithful. That’s what this world needs is people like that. Oh, book-learning is good–but it’s secondary to becoming people of integrity and people of faith.
Now, I want to leave you my blessing. I want you to know that the Lord is pleased with each of you and with your accomplishments. I, therefore, bless you for this. I bless you with confidence in yourself and in the future. I bless you with increased faith in the gospel and with a desire to serve your fellow man.
I bless you with courage to go forth and challenge the way things are being done and to show the world a more righteous way. I bless you with a love for others. I bless you with a desire to stand tall. I bless you with the same things, in fact, that our new prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, has asked of all of us in that new book he wrote, Standing for Something. Have you read it? In it he talks about ten virtues that will bless you forever. May I share them with you? He’s a prophet, too, you know:
Forgiveness and Mercy—the Twin Virtues
Thrift and Industry—Getting our Houses in Order
Faith–Our Only Hope
That’s what I want for all of you. Stand tall! I’m proud of you all. I love you. It’s been good to be here with you and with so many members of my family. God bless you all! I’ll check back and see how things are going in another 100 years or so. And, who knows, maybe then Brigham can come, too. Good-bye and God bless!
Courtesy of Public Relations
Kimball Building 226
Rexburg ID 83460-1660