"Learning How to Learn"
Brigham Young University-Idaho Commencement
April 26, 2003
Elder Henry B. Eyring
I am grateful to be with you on this day when graduates, families, and faculty are honored. You have my admiration and my thanks.
My message is one of hope in a rapidly changing world. I hear frequently these words, spoken with concern: "Nothing will be the way it was." It is easy to overestimate how rapidly and completely things are changing. But one thing is clear: what you have learned to date won't be sufficient for the future. Your hope and mine is that you have learned how to learn. That gift will turn out to be priceless.
The very nature of this university gives me confidence that you have learned how to learn. All we do here is founded in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is in it what might appear as a paradox: God is an unchangeable God yet His Church is continually changing. Well, it is not a paradox. It is perfectly logical. The principles by which God works are eternal. And God reveals to His servants and to His disciples how to apply those principles to fit changing conditions.
So, you have been taught to look for principles which will endure no matter what the conditions and also to plead for the Spirit to help you know how to apply them.
For instance, your teachers in religion classes have taught you this principle: "wickedness never was happiness."1 That has always been true and always will be. And you have found the need to plead for the Holy Ghost to help you apply that principle in a world which has turned things upside down, branding wickedness as happiness and trying to convince you that misery is best treated medically rather than by repentance. It never was easy to apply that principle. But you have been taught that it is true and how to get the help you will need to apply it in a shifting world.
You have had encouragement to learn how to find and apply lasting principles from all of your teachers. My teachers did that for me. Long ago I was taught in physics class the laws of motion. You remember: To every force there is an equal and opposite reaction. It was true when Newton proposed his third law of motion, it was still true after much of the rest of what I learned in physics was replaced, and it will be true as long as the world stands. And those teachers gave me more opportunity than I wanted to learn how to apply the laws of motion. The problems I was assigned to work seem to come back whenever I ride an elevator. I still remember struggling to solve problems about elevators in motion. It wasn't fun, but it taught me that you only really learn a principle by using it, over and over again.
Your political science teacher might have helped you discover this principle: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's a principle to ponder when you are in a position of power someday.
Some of you may go on to be trained in professions. I've asked some great teachers if there are principles you must learn to serve well in a changing world. One law professor told me that you should understand the principle of due process. He said that it means there is a proper way to do things. You will apply that principle differently in the English legal tradition than you will in other legal systems. But the understanding of due process and the ability to apply it will serve you wherever you may practice law.
A great teacher of accounting taught me the principle that I was to provide my clients timely, accurate, and useful information to make good decisions. That was true for the clerk who sat on a stool near the cold fireplace in the office of Ebenezer Scrooge. It will be true in whatever world of business may be ahead of us, anywhere in the world.
A great surgeon told me that he taught his students this principle: collections of infected fluid must be drained thoroughly. He applied that principle once by leaving a large wound open until it drained. Your medical school professor will help you learn how to use that principle in a variety of situations. And you will be ready to be taught because you have learned here to be eager to discover fundamental principles and have learned to pay the full price to know how to apply them.
Your gospel study will give you confidence in that process. For example, take that maxim from the political science professor: power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Your Book of Mormon study taught you about that principle. And so did your class in the Doctrine and Covenants. You learned that the principle applied exactly to wicked King Noah. But good King Mosiah and good King Benjamin seemed to escape the corruption. You learned from the 121st section that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men to exercise unrighteous dominion. But Heavenly Father and the Savior have power which is absolute. Yet they are free of corruption. That is because they know eternal principles perfectly and they are perfectly obedient to them. So, you have learned to apply the principle as this: "power tends to corrupt." By living true principles we can exercise power that blesses those we serve and need not corrupt but can exalt.
The Lord ended that 121st section with this principle of promise in the use of power:
"Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven."2
You have learned in your studies that God works by unchanging principles. You will find that the search for enduring principles has become natural to you in every field of study. You have had success seeking the wisdom to apply principles. You have learned that obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel will bring you the inspiration you will need to be a learner forever.
Those habits of learning will serve you well wherever you live, whatever changes come in the future, and whatever service you may give in the world and in the Kingdom of God.
I bear you my testimony that God lives and that He loves us. He can be trusted because He is bound by eternal principles. His beloved Son is our Savior. Because of His Atonement we will be raised in the resurrection. And by obedience to His commandments we can have the Holy Ghost as a companion. With that spirit we can be led to find and apply principles which endure. The personal standards you have made your own will give you the right to inspiration. With your capacity to find lasting principles and to use them wisely, you will make remarkable contributions in your families, in the Church, and in the world.
We send you forth with confidence, with our love, and with great expectations for your future learning and future service.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Alma 41:10.
2. Doctrine and Covenants 121:45.