Mary and I are pleased to be here with Elder Clark and his wife, Sue, and President Gilbert and his wife, Christine. We join with the faculty in congratulating you graduates on this special commencement day. I commend you wonderful students and your parents for attaining this singular honor. You are graduating from an outstanding university that maintains the highest standards of integrity and spirituality. Many have sacrificed to allow you to reach your goal and obtain your diploma. Some have traveled considerable distances to share this special occasion with you. To attain a cherished goal in the presence of family and friends is a memorable experience.
You will draw on what you have been taught here at BYU-Idaho throughout your life.
Most commencement addresses emphasize the vast opportunities that are now available to you graduates. Many talks stress the pursuit of dreams and passions. I acknowledge these goals, but desire to have you contemplate a greater purpose in your life.
To begin I hope you will be grateful for your blessings – especially your heritage. Gratitude and humility are closely intertwined. We live in a very self-centered age. Social media, in particular, can easily be used for self-promotion. It has never been more important to be grateful and humble. Those who possess these attributes express appreciation for their blessings as they follow the Savior’s example.
My friend, Harvard Professor Roger B. Porter who is a faithful member of the Church, speaking at one of the commencement proceedings at Harvard last May, noted that gratitude “…requires that we acknowledge our debt to others …it often involves a humble response for unearned or unmerited gifts.” He concluded, “If you choose to embrace gratitude as a central element of your life it will serve you well. It will help you resist the temptation to succumb to pride and to fall into a sense of entitlement. It will help you to see the good and to acknowledge the positive. It will help you to put in context the bumps in the road and the adversity you will from time to time encounter. It will help you focus attention on those less fortunate than you whose lives you can bless.”
I would suggest that we need to be especially grateful for our heritage. I know that your parents and families are very pleased with what is transpiring today. I hope you are appreciative of them. When we are blessed with goodly parents, we should be grateful. This is the debt each of us owes for our heritage. An old Chinese proverb reads: “When you drink the water, don’t forget the well from whence it came.” It is clear from the scriptures that we are to honor our parents. Proverbs reads, “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother…” Ephesians teaches us to “honor thy father and mother;” The great German philosopher, Goethe, put it this way, “What from your father’s heritage is lent, earn it anew to really possess it.” It is clear that we need to be grateful for our parents and take positive action to acquire that which they would hope to bestow upon us.
In addition to gratitude I wish to share some practical advice that may help you to be both happy and successful in achieving a meaningful life that has euphemistically been referred to as ‘the good life.’
In a recent essay Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, articulated the concern I have about the diminished role of faith, moral values, and meaning in modern life. He stated:
If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science, technology, the free market and the… democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.
But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.
This quote expresses in an elegant fashion the essence of my message. I am deeply concerned that ‘the good life’ based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is now very secondary to a worldly view of ‘the good life.’
For those of us who are members of the Church, the gospel of Jesus Christ and His resurrection and His atonement are the foundation for all that is essential and also bring meaning to this life. The Savior has inspired beliefs and established standards of conduct as to what is moral, righteous, desirable, and results in ‘the good life.’ However, the principles and basic morality the Savior taught are under serious attack in today’s world. Christianity is under attack.
This is not new. The recipe for the good life has been debated for centuries. When the Apostle Paul was in Athens on Mars Hill, he encountered “philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics”. The Stoics believed the highest good was virtue and the Epicureans believed the highest good was pleasure. Many stoics had become proud and used the philosophy as a “cloak for….ambition and iniquity.” Many Epicureans had become hedonists who took as their motto, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Many in the academic world have long pointed to Aristotle’s advocacy of ‘intellectual contemplation’ as a blueprint for ‘the good life.’ It is interesting that many of these same worldly philosophies that conflicted with early Christianity are still present in slightly different ways today.
In addition there are many new philosophies that are in direct conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This has happened very quickly. Using Book of Mormon language ‘…in the space of not many years’ much of the world now calls ‘evil good, and good evil’. In fact these two scriptural phrases reflect what is happening in our day. What is considered moral has changed. There has been an incredible movement away from moral conduct as the basis of ‘the good life.’ Some diminish Christianity by accepting the myth that in Christianity happiness is not about this life, but only about heaven. I assure you that following the Savior brings happiness in this life and in heaven.
Some challenges are not just about good and evil. Some require us to make choices based on what is ‘best’, not just what is good.
David Brooks in an op-ed in the New York Times titled “The Moral Bucket List” in May of 2015 developed the concept that there are “two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the market place. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral…” Brooks correctly concluded that the eulogy virtues are much more important. This hit home for me personally because I had an experience when I was in my mid-twenties that had a profound impact on me. It involved two funerals of two good men that took place only a few days apart. The account is true, but I have changed the names and have purposely been a little vague about a few of the facts.
I was 25 years-old, had just graduated from Stanford Law School, and started employment with a law firm. My work-day world was with highly educated people who had amassed significant material possessions. They were kind and on the whole gracious and attractive people.
The Church members I associated with were much more diverse. Most of them had very little of material wealth. They were wonderful people and most had meaning in their lives. It was at this juncture that two older, retired men that I had known for many years passed away. Their funerals were only a few weeks apart and I traveled to attend both funerals. I have decided to call one of the men’ Rich’ and the other man ‘Faithful.’ Those two funerals are cemented in my mind because they clarified the significance of the choices all people have before them, especially the young. They also demonstrate the complexity of the distinction between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.
Both Rich and Faithful served missions as young men. By all accounts, they were both dedicated missionaries. After attending college their lives began to diverge. Rich married a beautiful woman who over time became less active in the Church. Faithful married an equally beautiful woman who was completely active in the Church. More than any other factor, this framed the remaining decisions of their lives. In my experience when couples remain true and faithful to the Savior and the eternal significance of the family, the eulogy virtues are almost always preserved.
I will now share more about Rich. He had wonderful people skills and cared a great deal about people. He began employment with a major U.S. corporation and ultimately became president of that company. He had a very large income and lived in a large beautiful home set on spacious grounds. That is why I have decided to call him Rich. It would be fair to say that his career choices were not just good or better, but were the best.
His family and Church choices were not so good. He was a very good man and did not engage in personal choices that were in and of themselves evil. However, his family choices and influence with his children were focused almost exclusively on education and employment, essentially the resume virtues that are so valued in the marketplace. His children also embarked on excellent careers. They did not, however, remain active in the Church and married young women who were not members. I am not aware of all of the facts about his sons, but in each case, these marriages ended in separation and then divorce.
Rich and his wife had also become less active. They were primarily involved in high profile, social, and community activities. He always considered himself LDS and was proud of his mission, but he did not attend Church. He would, from time to time, contribute to Church building projects and he assisted LDS members in their careers. Furthermore, he was an influence for honesty and integrity and good will in all the positions he held.
His funeral was held at a non-denominational chapel at the cemetery. There were many top executives and dignitaries at the funeral, including the governor of the state where he lived. Except for his children, grandchildren, and me, everyone was over the age of 50. It was, on the whole, a somber funeral and basic principles of the Plan of Happiness were not taught and little was said of Jesus Christ. His life was almost exclusively based on resume virtues.
Turning to Faithful, his employment decisions were far less successful. His initial effort at a small independent business was thwarted when the business burned, and he lost everything. He subsequently created a small business but could barely make his required payments. He had a small, but adequate home. He enjoyed his work and his interaction with people. His career was "good" and certainly satisfactory, but not distinguished or what might be called best. It was not a resume virtues career.
His family and Church choices, on the other hand, were absolutely the best. He and his wife were completely active in the Church. He served as called, often as a teacher, attended the temple frequently, and was a faithful priesthood holder. He had wonderful relationships, especially with his large family and his many grandchildren. They were all well-educated, but his main emphasis was on living a Christlike life. In his retirement, he and his wife served a mission together. Though he faced trials, including the death of a son in World War II, he achieved satisfaction and joy throughout his life because of the purpose and meaning provided by his family and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
His funeral in the ward meeting house was large and joyful. People of all ages were in attendance, including large numbers of grandchildren and young people he had served. The Plan of Happiness was taught, and the Savior was at the center of the service. It was an exemplary Latter-day Saint funeral. The talks were about his character, kindness, concern for others, and faith and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have indicated these two funerals came at a defining time for me. I had served a mission and loved the Church. I was just starting my career and was becoming impressed with those having material and occupational success. I realized that the choices I was making would define my happiness in this life and the legacy I would leave. I also realized the eternal significance of the choices that were before me. It was clear to me that choices have eternal significance. What was most important to me about the lives I just described is that I realized the choices that are most significant can be made by everyone regardless of their talents, abilities, opportunities, or economic circumstances. I realized that for me, my future children, and everyone I would have the opportunity to influence, putting the Savior, family, and Church first was essential. It would result in ‘the good life.’
In the worst of circumstances, when everything else crumbles, family and the gospel of Jesus Christ are the essentials. Think of Father Lehi in the Book of Mormon where it describes how he "...departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family…”
Your generation has the challenge of protecting faith and family. One researcher has looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every non-religious population in history has experienced demographic decline. Most of the media last month highlighted the declining birthrate in much of the world today. The Wall Street Journal in a front page article proclaimed “The World’s New Population Time Bomb: Too Few People.” “Next year…for the first time since 1950 combined working age population will decline…”
Lack of faith and population decline are clearly interrelated. The Father’s eternal plan for His children is dependent upon both faith and families. I am grateful that Latter-day Saints, in survey after survey, are maintaining faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are continuing to marry and have children.
Some here may not have the opportunity to marry or have children. Individuals who righteously follow the Savior and His commandments and provide selfless service to our Father’s children ‘will receive all promised blessings in the eternities.’
As we face the difficulties and trials of life, many events occur over which we have little or no control.
On matters of principle, matters of conduct, religious observance, and righteous living, we are in control. Our faith in and worship of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ is a choice that we make.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoting from William Law, an 18th century English clergyman, stated this in a most succinct fashion:
“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”
Please understand that in reciting the true account of Rich and Faithful I am not advocating for less interest in goals relating to education or occupation.
Quite the contrary, I believe you graduates, should do everything you can to advance your accomplishments in these two areas. What I am saying is that when goals relating to education and occupation are elevated to a position superior to the family and the Church and a testimony of the Savior, the unintended consequences of over emphasizing the resume virtues can be significantly adverse.
I am confident that you can attain the joy and happiness you desire and that God wants for you if you are:
Grateful for your blessings – especially your heritage.
Committed to the eternal principles that will bring meaning to your life.
Determined to have ‘eulogy virtues’ prevail over ‘resume virtues’.
Prepared to report to the Savior that you have lived a ‘good life’.
The most important meeting that each of us will have on the other side of the veil is with the Savior, ‘the keeper of the gate.’ Regardless of whom our ancestors are and whether we are rich or poor, we will report on our adherence to the commandments we have been given. We should live so we can: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” We will want to joyfully report that we have lived a truly ‘good life.’