Enter to Learn

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Jennifer ChenDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

August 9, 2007
Jennifer C. Chen
Assistant Professor of Accounting

President and Sister Wheelwright, students, faculty, staff, and friends, Aloha.

First, I would like to thank Mike for his introduction and testimony. Mike’s love for God and for me and my children has greatly strengthened my own testimony. As now you all know, Mike and I were once students here on this very unique campus. Therefore, today I would like to share primarily with students a few things I have learned throughout my schooling and as a member of the faculty for the past two years.

The central mission of this university is to provide an education with the combining importance of spiritual and secular knowledge. However, I often hear comments similar to this—“spiritual affairs are more important than school in the long run” or, that it is just a grade with no eternal consequences. I basically agree with comments like these but would like to place some conditions to my support for such remarks.

It would be incorrect to treat spiritual learning and secular learning as two unrelated activities. We have been taught constantly of the value and primacy of spiritual learning. Elder Henry B. Eyring, however, stated, “it is clear that putting spiritual learning first does not relieve us from learning secular things.” Therefore I would like to talk about three things we should learn while at school.

First we must learn to know ourselves

Last Spring term, one student walked into my office with tears in her eyes and told me that she had come directly from the testing center because she had failed the exam. She said she had spent many hours studying for the class and did not believe she could have done so poorly on the test. I sat her down and helped her identify what the problems were. I offered her some suggestions and invited her to study harder. Still in tears, she told me that she may need someone to study with but did not know many people because she was new to this campus. I told her she could come and study using the table by my office and ask me questions if needed.

Throughout the term, she came and studied diligently at the table and did not really need any extra help from me. At the end, she passed the course with a grade good enough to major in accounting. When she took an upper level accounting class from me in the Fall, she learned to study in the accounting lab with her classmates and ask tutors for help. Before the end of winter semester, she received a job offer from one of the biggest international accounting firms.

Also, not long ago, I received an email from a student who took an introductory accounting class from me the last spring semester as well. With his permission, I am going to share a part of his letter with you.

Dear Sis Chen,
I don't know if you remember me. I took the Intro to Accounting course with you during the past Spring semester there at BYUH. I was there only as a visiting student, but I was taking your class to help fulfill a Business Minor back here at BYU-Provo where I was (and still am) a full-time student. You came up to me and ask what my plans were in school. I told you I was a Humanities major, business minor. You encouraged me to consider majoring in accounting because I had done well in your class. You asked me to let you know if I ever did change my mind. Well...I've done just that Sis. Chen. Taking your class helped me realize that I liked accounting and wasn't half bad at it. It also helped me see that I didn't like Humanities as much as I thought I did. I made some big changes for the better.

For both students, disregarding their exam scores, they have learned to know themselves better. Knowing ourselves better allows us to leverage on our strengths and to recognize and work on our weaknesses.

Secondly, we must learn to be organized

Being organized in our lives is necessary for us to do well in this demanding world. Since most students on this campus also work and have many responsibilities requiring their time and attention; learning how to manage our time more wisely becomes very crucial. We usually feel overwhelmed by the lack of time; this is especially true for married students with young children. Mike and I faced the same challenges that many of you do or will encounter later on in life. Instead of using time limitation as an excuse for unsatisfactory performance at school, work, or even church callings, Mike and I searched for possible solutions.

We got together with two other families to work out a plan which helped us to more effectively manage our demanding schedules. At the time, each family had one child and all the parents were full-time students and also working. Rather than having one parent from each family care for their own child, we put all the children together to play and each parent took a turn watching them. The children enjoyed having friends to play with and the parents had more time for school work or other responsibilities.

Mike and I later found out that these two families that we had shared time with have also managed to complete their advanced degrees. They are Peter and Joyce Chan, who are both teachers on this campus, and the other family is Allen and Tracy Cheung, where Allen is a faculty member at the Hong Kong Institution of Education. Two years ago, when we returned to Hawaii and again met with Peter and Joyce, the first thing we talked about was this special learning experience we had shared.

We always have more things to do than the time we have. We can find many things to spend our time on, but we can not create time. Let’s learn how to handle our time more wisely and effectively. I realize that some of you may be thinking in your minds that “even if I don’t sleep at all; I still don’t have enough time to get everything done.” If this is the case, then perhaps it is time for you to exercise your agency, make a choice, and learn to trust our Father in Heaven.

Lastly, and most importantly, I am going to talk about how we must learn to trust God.
Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “our personal intelligence is everlasting and divine,” and “because of our sacred regard for each human intellect, we consider the obtaining of an education to be a religious responsibility. Yet opportunities and abilities differ”.

Let me tell you a story about one sister. This sister was born into a humble family with limited financial resources. After she converted to the Church, she knew God loved her and often felt she had nothing to offer in return. She decided to do her best in all the things she could, so that people could see her good works and glorify her Father in Heaven.

Her patriarch advised her to also obtain additional education that would help develop her talents and prepare her to serve in the church. She did not know how this could be done because she did not have the opportunity at the time to pursue further education. Many years later she married a return missionary and her family moved close to a university where her husband was a student. She enjoyed staying at home with her young daughter.

One day, the long forgotten advice of the patriarch came back to her, and the messages for her to go back to school was so certain and clear in her mind. With her husband’s support, she applied for school. Her application, however, was rejected because she did not meet the necessary qualifications. After many family prayers, fasting, and with the help from a faculty member, the school agreed to admit her for one semester only. Let me repeat that she was admitted for one semester only. After one semester, the school would then make a final decision.

This sister did well in her first semester and went back to the faculty member who had helped her for advice. He told her to keep taking classes until the school said otherwise. She took the advice seriously, and with the great love and support of her husband, children, and especially the help of her Heavenly Father, she continually took classes until both this sister and her husband finished their Ph. D. degrees.

Many of you may have already figured out that I have just told you my own life story. Until today, I still don’t know if the school ever made a final decision on my case. I hope my BYU-Hawaii diploma is still valid after this devotional.

During my schooling, many people asked me or even questioned me why I was in school. I did not have an answer for them; all I knew was that my patriarch told me so. Mike and I knew that Heavenly Father had a plan for my family, but what it was we did not know. In the middle of my Ph. D. program, Brother Glade Tew, the accounting department chair, informed me that there was an accounting faculty position open. He knew I may not have been ready at the time, but he wasn’t sure if there would be any openings later on. I did not apply for the position because I believed that if BYU Hawaii was the place that our Father in Heaven wanted my family to be, he would lead us there. Six months prior to the completion of my dissertation, I already had interviews with other universities when Brother Tew emailed me and let me know that the same position has again become available. By then, the message for my family to return to BYU Hawaii was as clear as the message I received for me to go back to school many years ago.

When my family once again set foot on this campus, Mike and I humbly realized that over these years, Heavenly Father had placed many wonderful people around us to prepare us to be here to serve and guide the students. I am forever grateful for the faculty, staff, and friends who taught and helped my family. Many of them are in the audience today. I sincerely thank each one of you for the extra steps you took to touch and change my life. I am also thankful for my students who gave me the opportunity to walk with them during this stage of their lives.

I stand before you as a witness and testify to you that our Heavenly Father and our Savior live and they love us. It is true, and I can not and will not deny it. They know us so much better than we know ourselves. They know what we have potential to become; but only if we learn to do our best and trust them.

The circumstances that have led us here may be different, yet our presence on this wonderful campus is certainly not by chance. In 2 Nephi, chapter 2 verse 6, Nephi tells us that no one shall come into this land except that the Lord brought them to. Leaders of our Church have constantly emphasized the importance of education and have been continually supporting this university with sacred tithing funds. These funds are donated by faithful church members throughout the world. The majority of these members, or their families, may not even have the opportunity to attend any of the church schools.

My dear students, you are privileged to be here and attending this institution. Please take the ownership of your learning seriously. If you are doing well in school, please keep up with the good work and do your best to be the genuine gold for President McKay, the founding prophet of this university. If you are not doing as good as you wanted to, please identify the problems and work on them. Try a little bit harder and do not give up so easily. My dear colleagues, no matter what your position is on this campus, our Savior trusts us and places the education of many of His future church leaders in our hands. Please lead them and guide them.

Let’s all honor the faith of the tithe payers of the Church, and always remember the love and hope that our church leaders, our family members, and others have for us. As we progress in this university, let’s learn to know ourselves better, learn to be more organized, and most importantly, learn to trust God. In closing, I would like to echo President James E. Faust. He said if we are striving for excellence, if we are trying our best day by day with the wisest use of our time and energy to reach realistic goals, we will be successful. This is my testimony and sincere prayer. In the name of my redeemer and Savior, even Jesus Christ. Amen.