“Guideposts For Life's Journey”
Brigham Young University-Idaho Commencement
August 22, 2003
President Thomas S. Monson
President Bednar, distinguished members of the faculty, honored guests, and graduates of 2003, I am pleased to be with you on this memorable August morning. I pray for the inspiration of Heaven to attend me and to inspire my remarks.
Graduates, I commend you for paying the price in time, in effort, in money to obtain your education. Parents, I honor you for choosing to sacrifice, to skimp, to go without so that your precious son or daughter maybe given the skills which education provides to meet the many challenges of a changing world. Teachers, I pay tribute to you. Not only have you guided the eager minds of your students into paths of learning, but you have also lighted their lives, fashioned their futures, designed their destinies.
Tomorrow, graduates, a new journey begins for you. Some of you may plan to pursue further education and advanced degrees. Others will enter the halls of business, the shops of skilled labor, the plants of industry, the corridors of hospitals, the classrooms of learning. Whatever your pathway may be, I suggest four guideposts to assist in your respective journeys through life.
They are easily remembered. They are true friends to every traveler:
First, GLANCE BACKWARD;
Second, LOOK HEAVENWARD;
Third, REACH OUTWARD;
And fourth, PRESS ONWARD.
Let us consider each in its turn. First, glance backward. A review of the past can be helpful, that is, if we learn from the mistakes and follies of those who have gone before and if we do not repeat them. John Toland, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, in summing up his monumental work, The Rising Sun declared,
"I have done my utmost to let the events speak forthemselves; and if any conclusion was reached, it was that there are no simple lessons in history, that it is human nature that repeats itself--not history."
I have suggested merely a glance at the past, for it is not practical to think we can return. Some of you may be familiar with Thornton Wilder's classic drama Our Town. If you are, you will remember the town of Grover's Corners. In the play, Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and we read of the lonely grief of her young husband George, left with their four-year-old son. Emily does not wish to rest in peace; she wants to experience again the joys of her life. She is given the privilege to relive her twelfth birthday. At first it is exciting to be young again, but the excitement wears off quickly. The day holds no joy, now that Emily knows what is in store for the future. It is unbearably painful to realize how unaware she had been of the meaning and wonder of life while she was alive.
Before returning to her resting place, Emily laments, "Do human beings ever realize life while they live it. . .every minute?" May each of us learn to appreciate the gift of life that we have been given, and may the lessons we learn as we glance backward help us to live more fully each day of our future.
Now that we have glanced backward, let us look heavenward. From the heavens came the gentle invitation, "Look to God and live." We have not been left to wander in darkness and in silence uninstructed, uninspired, without revelation. One who knew and taught this truth was President Harold B. Lee, who wrote this inscription on the title page of the Triple Combination of scripture which he presented to his teen-age daughter:
To My Dear Maurine,
That you may have a constant measure by which to judge between truth and the errors of man's philosophies, and thus grow in spirituality as you increase in knowledge, I give you this sacred book to read frequently and cherish throughout your life.
Lovingly your father,
Harold B. Lee
From the scriptures, from the prophets, comes counsel for our time as we look heavenward. You graduates have had the blessing of receiving your education at an institution governed by the principles and ideals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the Mission Statement for Brigham Young University-Idaho, the number one goal of this school is to "build testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and encourage living its principles.” Looking heavenward should be our lifelong endeavor. Some foolish persons turn their backs on the wisdom of God and follow the allurement of fickle fashion, the attraction of false popularity and the thrill of the moment. Their course of conduct resembles the disastrous experience of Esau, who exchanged his birthright for a mess of pottage. And what are the results of such action?
I testify to you today that turning away from God brings broken covenants, shattered dreams, and crushed hopes. Such a quagmire of quicksand I plead with you to avoid. You are of a noble birthright. Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is your goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt, but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose and lofty ideals. As we look heavenward, we will receive divine direction. I bear witness to you today that the sweetest spirit and feeling in all of mortality is when we have an opportunity to be on the Lord's errand and to know that He has guided our footsteps. Very often on Sundays, when I am not otherwise assigned, I will attend a sacrament meeting in one of the care centers located near my home. There precious souls, all confined to wheelchairs, meet in an attitude of worship. Worthy priesthood holders from the surrounding area are called as bishops or branch presidents to preside over the care center units, and priests and deacons are assigned each week to bless and pass the sacrament. One cannot attend without being uplifted and inspired.
One Sunday a young man was to play the violin for the benefit of the elderly and incapacitated throng. He began, and as he played, his music became sweeter with each passing minute. Tears came to the young man's eyes as he later mentioned that the notes tumbled through his mind, one following the other in perfect succession, that he had never played with such pure inspiration as he had that particular day. He proffered, "It wasn't my skill. It was the yearning of this special audience."
At the same meeting, an elderly lady called out, "I'm cold!" A priest at the sacrament table said nothing, but arose and walked to her side. He then removed his own jacket and placed it around the shoulders of the lady who was cold. To him I said, "What you have done today you will ever remember. Your act of kindness reflects the nobility of your soul. You have been as the good Samaritan who aided the helpless traveler on the road to Jericho."
As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy. We do not live alone--in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor's wretchedness. "Love thy neighbor" is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection. This truth inspires the familiar charge, "Go forth to serve." Try as some of us may, we cannot escape the influence our lives have upon the lives of others. Ours is the opportunity to build, to lift, to inspire, and indeed to lead. The New Testament teaches that it is impossible to take a right attitude toward Christ without taking an unselfish attitude toward men:
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,ye have done it unto me."
We may think as we please, but there is no question about what the Bible teaches. In the New Testament there is no road to the heart of God that does not lead through the heart of man. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that a true Latter-day Saint
"is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them."
We cannot be careless in our reach. Lives of others depend on us. The power to lead is indeed the power to mislead; and the power to mislead is the power to destroy. Your leaders at BYU-Idaho, from President David Bednar through the ranks of each professor and instructor, have left their imprint upon you. They reached outward and touched your lives. They understand that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the robe of responsibility.
I have many memories of my boyhood days. Anticipating Sunday dinner was one of them. Just as we children hovered at our so-called starvation level and sat anxiously at the table with the aroma of roast beef filling the room, Mother would say to me, "Tommy, before we eat, take this plate of food I've prepared down the street to Old Bob, and then hurry back."
I could never understand why we couldn't first eat and later deliver his plate of food. I never questioned aloud but would run down to his house and then wait anxiously as Bob's aged feet brought him eventually to the door. Then I would hand him the plate of food. He would present to me the clean plate from the previous Sunday and offer me a dime as pay for my services. My answer was always the same: "I can't accept the money. My mother would tan my hide." He would then run his wrinkled hand through my blond hair and say, "My boy, you have a wonderful mother. Tell her thank you."
You know, I think I never did tell her. I sort of felt Mother didn't need to be told. She seemed to sense his gratitude. I remember, too, that Sunday dinner always seemed to taste a bit better after I had returned from my errand.
Old Bob came into our lives in an interesting way. He was a widower in his eighties when the house in which he was living was to be demolished. I heard him tell my grandfather his plight as the three of us sat on Grandfather's old front porch swing. With a plaintive voice, he said to Grandfather, "Mr. Condie, I don't know what to do. I have no family. I have no place to go.
I have no money." I wondered how Grandfather would answer. Slowly Grandfather reached into his pocket and took from it that old leather purse from which, in response to my hounding, he had produced many a penny or nickel for a special treat. This time he removed a key and handed it to Old Bob. Tenderly he said, "Bob, here is the key to that house I own next door. Take it.
Move your things in there and stay as long as you like. There will be no rent to pay and nobody will ever put you out again."
Tears welled up in the eyes of Old Bob, coursed down his cheeks, then disappeared in his long, white beard. Grandfather's eyes were also moist. I spoke no word, but that day my grandfather stood ten feet tall. I was proud to bear his given name. Though I was but a boy, that day I learned a great lesson on reaching outward. And while we reach outward, we have the responsibility to press onward. Whatever part you choose to play on the world stage, keep in mind that life is like a candid camera; it does not wait for you to pose. Learning how to direct our resources wisely is a high priority. We don't have to keep up with the change--we have to keep ahead of it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed,
"You are sensitive to a thousand influences . . .instructed by the past . . . invited by the future. You are not born equal--you are born unique. You have powers that have come to you from a host of ancestors. Your strengths are greater than your weaknesses. Finding our strengths, our
unique powers, should be a purpose of the journey of life."
Increasingly we hear from leaders in business, professions, and government that it is easy to find people who can do what they are told but difficult to find people who know what to do without being told. In our chosen fields, the obstacles confronting us may be mountainous in their appearance--even impassable in their challenge to our abilities. Press onward we must, for we understand full well that attacking is not solving. Complaining is not thinking. Ridiculing is not reasoning. Accountability is not for the intention but for the deed. No man is proud simply of what he intends to do. Let us not be deceived. Like the mice who voted to place a warning bell around the neck of the cat, we may mistakenly feel that the problem has been taken care of simply because we have discussed it.
To put it another way, machines are not creative or imaginative, nor even responsible. They are simply tools, and tools do not work and serve mankind until skilled hands take them up. Because our tools are growing in complexity and in potential usefulness, we must grow in order to use them both profitably and wisely. Let us not be frightened. Rather, let us be challenged. Only the human mind has the capacity for creativity, imagination, insight, vision, and responsibility. And I urge you to develop your heart with your mind, to care as well as to think. You will go on learning after you leave this campus, for to cease learning is to cease existing. And the best way to prepare for your future does not consist of merely dreaming about it. Great men have not been merely dreamers; they have returned from their visions to the practicalities of replacing the airy stones of their dream castles with solid masonry wrought by their hands.
Vision without work is daydreaming. Work without vision is drudgery. Vision, coupled with work, will ensure your success. You have developed the skill to study - use it. You have learned the value of effort - apply it. You have pursued the quest for excellence - continue it. Your future will present insurmountable problems only when you consider them insurmountable. Your challenge is to keep faith with the past while you keep pace with the future.
Today as you depart from your beloved alma mater, Brigham Young University-Idaho, and go forth to make your own mark in life, I give to you this challenge:
To dream the impossible dream;
To fight the unbeatable foe;
To bear with unbearable sorrow;
To run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong;
To love, pure and chaste from afar;
To try when your arms are too weary;
To reach the unreachable star.
"Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But. . .by following them you will reach your destiny."
Each of us has the choice to opt for the shoestrings or the stars.
Graduates, will you follow the guideposts? Will you glance backward, look heavenward, reach outward, and press onward? Our beloved Savior beckons us to follow Him. The choice is ours.
Remember the rich, young ruler? He preferred the comforts of earth to the treasures of heaven.
He would not purchase the things of eternity by abandoning those of time. He made, as Dante calls it, "the great refusal." And so he vanishes from the gospel history, nor do the evangelists know anything of him further.
Your future is bright. It is challenging. It awaits you. Do not venture forth alone. Louise Haskins counseled,
"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.'"
As we seek the Lord, we will surely find Him. In the words of the great humanitarian and theologian, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, He may come
"to us as One unknown, without a name, as . . . by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: 'Follow thou me,' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and . . . they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."
To you I declare: He is the Christ. He is our Redeemer. He is our Savior. He is our Brother. He is our friend. He has marked the way. Ours is the privilege to follow Him.
Safe journey, my beloved graduates, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ.