Treasure Your Education
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
August 4, 2015
President John and Sister Susan Tanner
President and First Lady, BYU-Hawaii
First, Melissa and Jennifer, thank you for that beautiful music, which gave us the message we all needed to hear. Bothers and sisters, aloha! President Tanner and I are so excited to be with you and to welcome you to a new semester here at BYU–Hawaii. Usually at these Devotionals, the wife or the husband gets up and introduces the spouse to you. Today, I am not going to do that in a formal way. I will be giving a small message, and using in my talk some things that may help you to get to know President Tanner a little bit better.
Immediately after we were asked by President Eyring to serve here at BYU–Hawaii, we started reading about the history of Laie and the history of this university. We were thrilled with the prophetic destiny of this place, and wanted to be a part of forwarding those prophecies and helping to make them happen. Today, I would like to talk for a minute just about one of those prophecies from President David O. McKay: that from this place, peace would spread across the Earth. President McKay in the 1955 groundbreaking said several important things for us to know. He said: “for what is this school being built? First, the things pertaining to God and His kingdom, a testimony of the existence of Deity, knowing that He lives and that He is our Father, the Father of all mankind and ruler of brothers and what that means toward peace, establishing peace in the world.” He then said, “The gospel plan… is the only plan by which the world, by obedience to it, may obtain peace,” and continued, “from this school I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good toward the establishment of peace internationally.”
How can we participate in fulfilling this prophecy of spreading peace to the world? There are certain words in his quotes that I especially like. He talks about having a testimony of God and knowing that He is our Father - that will help us as we spread peace. He talks about the gospel plan, and particularly obedience to the gospel plan - and that will help us spread peace. I like to think of that as keeping the covenants that we have made, thus helping us to spread peace.
This morning, I will share three small stories about some little pockets of society where people felt and experienced complete harmony and peace. One is scriptural, one is international, and one is within a family.
One of my favorite societies to read about in the scriptures is the Nephite nation after Jesus Christ visited them. This story is recounted in the fourth book of Nephi. How is it that this society lived in peace? We are told in the very first verse in Fourth Nephi that they all repented, were baptized, and received the Holy Ghost. This means that they forsook their sins, covenanted to follow Jesus Christ, and they had the help and companionship of the Holy Ghost.
This is a model for us to strive for. In verses 4 Nephi:15-17, it describes more of the society that they lived in. It says that they had “no contention” among them. Imagine no contention. They lived with the “love of God in their hearts.” It also says that they had no “envying,” “strifes,” “tumults,” nor “any manner of lasciviousness,” and that a happier people could not be found. There were no robbers, murderers, no Lamanites, nor any “-ites” among them at all. In other words, there were no divisions among them, as they were all children of God and heirs to the kingdom of God. This teaches us, as President McKay did, how it is to live in peace, to have a testimony of our Father, and let the love of God dwell in our hearts. In addition, this teaches us that the Nephites followed the gospel plan, and lived with complete harmony and peace for over a hundred years!
Now a little international story that I had forgotten about until I read President McKay’s words. Over twenty years ago, John and I visited Austria, as part of his assignment at BYU over International Education. It was during the time of the Bosnian War. There was an international stake in Vienna where they held a Young Women camp. In that camp, girls from all the factions of the war were included. There were girls from Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Serbia, and Croatia. However, during that camp, they were not there to represent the politics of their nations, but rather, they remembered that they are daughters of a Heavenly Father, who loves them and they love him. They had promised to stand as witnesses of God at all times, in all things and in all places. As they remembered their covenant to follow the Lord. They had a week of complete joy, love, and peace. Like President McKay had stated, “It was the testimony of God and obedience to the gospel plan that are the keys to peace.”
World peace and international peace are kind of lofty goals that we keep in our minds and hearts, but how many of us can have family peace for even 24 hours? Often our families are the hardest place for us to achieve a society of peace. President Tanner grew up in a family with 13 children. There was not always complete peace in that chaotic household as he grew up. However, his parents were wise and they taught those children to keep their covenants, to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, and, especially, his father emphasized something that we do not always emphasize. A part of our covenant that we find in Romans 12:15 is that we should “rejoice with them that do rejoice.” This was an amazing part of that covenant for this family. After all, if there are thirteen children and two parents, your birthday celebration only rolls around one time in every 15 birthdays, so you might as well be happy for the others while they are celebrating. Or if you buy a dozen apples, there are not enough to go around for everyone to have one, so you need to learn to be unselfish and you need to learn to rejoice for others in their joys and successes. Among these thirteen now grown adult brothers and sisters, there are extroverts who are very firm-minded, but there is an unmistakable love and peace that they share. I witnessed this in a recent family trip that we took to England. President Tanner acted as a tour guide, because this is his area of expertise. Each one of his brothers and sisters loved, admired and appreciated the things that he taught. There were no jealousies or divisions, only love, admiration, and peace. From their growing-up years, they had learned to rejoice for each other in their successes.
This university, where we are, is a great playing field and a great laboratory, or a special ohana, where we have the opportunity to keep the covenants we have made alongside individuals from over seventy different nations. Imagine the great opportunity to live among each other in peace, with no “-ites” or divisions among us. We can learn to live with people from all cultures and backgrounds, in spite of national politics, like the young women in Yugoslavia and Bosnia. We can covenant to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with one another, to rejoice with one another, and to rise above jealousies and envying, as in President Tanner’s family. We have made covenants to obey the gospel plan. We have testimonies that God is our loving Heavenly Father.
Brothers and sisters, may we each keep our covenants so that we can be part of the fulfillment of President McKay’s prophecy, that from this university, we will help establish peace in the world. This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
President John S. Tanner:
Aloha! We have felt such love from you and for you in our week on campus. Thank you for welcoming us so warmly. Thank you with aloha.
Susan and I have chosen to focus our devotional today on principles found in David O. McKay’s prophetic addresses at the campus groundbreaking 60 years ago, and at the college dedication three years later. We want to begin with the founding. As Maria says in The Sound of Music, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
In my brief remarks I will focus on two key principles for President McKay, ones he comes back many times in his founding addresses and prayers: 1) the spiritual value of education and 2) the supreme importance of character education.
Ideals in Education
As you know President McKay stood in a cane field at the groundbreaking on February 12, 1955 and boldly prophesied that the college, temple, and town would become a “missionary factor influencing . . . millions of people who will come here” - and this when slightly over 100,000 tourists came to Hawaii in any year. Few of these made it around the island to the North Shore, and even fewer stopped in the obscure little town of Laie. It was an amazing prophecy.
Less well remembered is the revelation that President McKay said “came to me this morning” regarding the “ideals of the Church of Jesus Christ in education.” What are these ideals? They are the principles revealed in 1832 to the Prophet Joseph and re-revealed to President McKay in 1955 urging “all the members of the Church . . . to study and treasure the things of education in all fields.” We are not only to study but to treasure. “Treasure” is President McKay’s unique addition to the Prophet’s language that we are to study. Latter-day Saints should prize and love education, as President McKay did. His enthusiasm is evident as he quotes verses from D&C 88, the Olive Leaf, which he says “came to me this morning, and I wrote the words for you. Right now I cannot do better than to read them . . . as evidence for the need of education.”
For President McKay, learning is both a duty and delight. Latter-day Saints are to “teach one another . . . diligently” and treasure learning in all fields, including the study:
“Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79)
President McKay expounds on the expansive scope of the Lord’s curriculum at the groundbreaking. He incorporates these verses again three years later in the dedicatory prayer.
At the dedication he asserts that education is a spiritual imperative, and not merely an economic one, as useful and important as learning to make a living most assuredly is. Learning helps us not simply get a job, but become more like God. An educator himself, President McKay clearly loves learning. His founding addresses and prayers exude love, excitement and passion for education, which at its finest lifts and enlightens and helps us become like God, whose glory is intelligence.
What does all this mean for us at BYU-Hawaii today? It means that we should inculcate love of learning here in every subject we teach. We should nurture life-long learners. We should teach students how to learn and inspire them to want to continue learning. At this institution, life-long learning is more than an academic catch-phrase or response to the marketplace, which requires workers who can keep up with rapidly changing fields. It is an eternal principle of the restored gospel. As Brigham Young said:
“We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never . . . We shall never cease to learn, unless we apostatize from the religion of Jesus Christ.”
It turns out this seemingly impractical, idealistic, gospel-based approach to learning that President McKay advocated has practical advantages in today’s world. Let me illustrate by citing a formula from the book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. Friedman uses the metaphor of a flat world to describe globalization in the 21st century, when we everyone and everywhere are potentially connected at any time. He calls this condition a flat world.
“The first, and most important ability, you can develop in a flat world is the ability to ‘learn how to learn’ [he says]—to constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things. . . . Because what you know today will be out-of-date sooner than you think.”
The qualities that equip you for a flat world are what he characterizes as curiosity and passion—or what I have designated more broadly as the love of learning. Friedman has a simple but memorable formula to express this idea. It is this:
CQ + PQ > IQ
This translates as Curiosity Quotient plus Passion Quotient is greater than Intelligence Quotient. Friedman asserts: “I live by the equation CQ + PQ > IQ. Give me a kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over a less passionate kid with a high IQ every day of the week.”
So would I! There is good news here for you and me. We can become a curious, passionate learner no matter what our IQ. So please do not judge or limit yourself by past test scores or grades, nor focus excessively on these measures of your education. Instead, determine to become a passionate, curious learner. This will not only open doors opportunity; it will become a happier, more fulfilling way to pursue your education than worrying about who is smarter or who has the highest GPA. And ultimately it will help you fulfill the measure of your creation. For God invites us to love him with all our minds. As we come to know and love truth, we become more like Him.
Higher Than Intellect
Now let me turn to character education, the second large theme woven throughout President McKay’s founding statements. As a boy, I often heard President McKay teach that “character is higher than intellect.” I thought that he coined this phrase, though in fact he borrowed it from Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom he calls the “wisest American from an educational standpoint.” Even so, it became identified with President McKay for me as a boy. It was through the prophet of my youth I learned that [quote]
“True education consists not merely in the acquiring of a few facts of science, history, literature or art, but in the development of character.”
Or as he put in another more positive way:
“True education seeks to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men with virtue, temperance and brotherly love.”
In short, true education produces noble character. This is the genuine gold that President McKay prophesied would distinguish the men and women “this school was going to produce.”
This ideal was profoundly inspiring to me as a boy starting my college education. I wanted to become a man “who cannot be bought or sold . . . genuine gold.”
This must ever remain our aim at BYU-Hawaii. Students, you need to know that we have designs on your souls and not simply on your minds. We are not only about helping you know some things. We aim to help you become something—something noble and good.
So how does one acquire good character? Aristotle taught that character comes from our habits. It comes from choosing to do the right thing—often in small ways—over and over again until that virtue becomes habitual. It becomes who we are.
The word “character” originates from the notion of engraving or imprinting something, whether on the soul (as in a person of strong character) or in writing on a page (as in a character of the alphabet on a page). In both cases, character denotes what is etched deeply on the person or the page. True education engraves nobility on the soul.
What will you engrave here on your soul? What will you learn here not only in your head but in your heart? What will you become? We hope you will become individuals of noble character, “genuine gold.”
You can know if you are developing a noble character by evaluating what you truly love or treasure. Jesus taught that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”; the person who loves light and truth becomes “full of light.” (Matt. 6:21-22) “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you” (D&C 88:67). Character education involves learning to love light.
The ancient philosopher Plato once asked the question “Who is a truly just or virtuous person?” He answers that it is the person would do what is right even if he or she were invisible. He illustrates this by the story of a man called Gyges, who like Frodo, entered a cave and found a magic ring that makes him invisible. But Gyges he uses its power to do evil. Plato concludes that Gyges, who had seemingly been a good man before this, was not truly virtuous. He just lacked the opportunity to do evil. The just man acts virtuously even if he were invisible.
So must we if we would become genuine gold. We must do the right thing even when no one is looking. We must never lie or cheat, whether or not we might be caught. We obey the commandments and follow the Honor Code because we are men and women who keep their word. Those of high character “scorn to violate the truth.” They “cannot be bought or sold.” These rare individuals are “genuine gold.”
They know that there is no ring of Gyges; that it is Satan who teaches the lie that we can hide from God. Our deeds are always visible to His all-seeing eye. Therefore men and women of genuine gold “walk as in His presence, ever to observe his providence”—knowing that we truly always are in His presence.
Brothers and Sisters, though this will surely embarrass her, I want to hold up my wife as a role-model to you of such a person whose character is genuine gold. She is a person that Lord can trust because she strives to do the right thing in all circumstances. She does so because she truly loves the Lord and she loves the truth. She is like Nathaniel of old, a person in whom there is no guile, a person with an eye single to God. I love her just this side of idolatry.
As we start this semester, let us remember the gospel ideal of education. May we study not only diligently but with delight, treasuring this opportunity to learn, and pursuing our education with passion and curiosity.
May we also remember that character is higher than intellect? Let us strive to etch nobility of character deeply into our souls.
Paul told the Corinthians that the gospel must be etched into “the fleshy tables of the heart.” In so doing, the Corinthian saints would become “our epistle” [or letter] to a fallen world in which the gospel could be “read of all men.” (2 Cor. 3: 4, 3). May we, too, become a letter of hope to a dark world lacking in virtuthat Latter-day Saints are people of learning and light.
In so doing, we will fulfill the vision of President David O. McKay when he dedicated this campus. He prayed: “May there radiate from these buildings an aura of light . . . influencing all to live clean and upright lives, to seek truth diligently, to be inspired . . . to glorify Thee, our Creator, our Father, our God.”
I echo this prayer for the campus today. May we learn in the light, may we come to love light, and may the light of God radiate always from our lives, growing “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)