Pursue the True Path to Happiness
Commencement Address given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 10, 2010
Elder Quentin L. Cook
Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Graduates, families, and friends: aloha!
It is a great pleasure, President Wheelwright, to join with you, your wife, and the faculty to congratulate these students on this special 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. You have had the privilege of showing them this beautiful campus which has come to mean so much to you.
To attain a cherished goal in the presence of family and friends is a memorable experience.
I first visited this institution more than 50 years ago in the fall of 1959. I was a student body officer at Utah State University, and USU was playing the University of Hawaii in football. We student officers paid our own way, but accompanied the football team on the same airplane. President David O. McKay, who was then the president and prophet of the Church, learned of our trip and invited us to meet with him at Church Headquarters. It was the first time I had met a prophet, and I was impressed with his countenance and his spirit. He was warm and gracious to us.
President McKay then told us about this institution with great enthusiasm. The school had only been in existence for 4 years, and he had dedicated the first permanent buildings the year before. He asked if we would meet with the students and administrators, give them his love and blessing, and encourage them in every possible way.
I can remember to this day the feelings of awe that I experienced when I first saw this beautiful setting. The ocean, the mountains, the temple, the magnificent vistas are as inspiring today as they were then. As part of that trip, we also met with the new governor of Hawaii, William F. Quinn. Hawaii had been admitted as a new state in the United States August 21, 1959, just prior to our visit.
I love the diversity of students that attend this great institution. As a new General Authority, I served two years in the Philippines and three years in the Pacific Islands. For those of you from the Pacific Rim, I gained a love and appreciation for your part of the world. I had previously been a counselor and then stake president of the California San Francisco Stake. We had language units that included Tongan, Samoan, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish. One of our major themes during that period was unity amid diversity. Every time I have talked with any of you individually or visited this school, I have felt the unity that is such an eternally significant principle, especially when there is diversity.
You will draw on what you have been taught here at BYU-Hawaii throughout your life. The education you have received prepares you for the continued pursuit of knowledge in the years to come. Some advice may help you be both happy and successful, what has euphemistically been referred to as "the good life."
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 Stoicks."1 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."2 Many in the academic world have long pointed to Aristotle's advocacy of "intellectual contemplation" as a blueprint for "the good life."
A reviewer writing in The New York Times Book Review last month asserted that modern philosophers, "have concluded that there is no single right balance of elements that constitutes â€˜the good life' for man."3
Last week David Brooks of the New York Times wrote an excellent article asserting that, "Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being." He challenged colleges to spend less time "â€¦preparing students for careers" and more time "preparing them to make social decisions."4
As I read these statements I reflected on what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God."5
In the spirit of Brooks' statement and the Prophet's optimistic declaration, I am confident that we can have the joy and happiness that we desire and that God wants for us. What must we do to attain it?
Be Grateful for Your Blessings, Especially Your Heritage
First, always be grateful for your blessings, especially your heritage. I know that your parents are very pleased with what is happening 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 sprung." 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 motherâ€¦"6 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.
Commit Yourself to the Eternal Institution of the Family as the Foundation for Happiness
Second, commit yourself to the eternal institution of the family as the foundation for happiness. In the world at large many are choosing not to get married or are delaying marriage. The family is an eternal institution ordained of God from before the foundation of the world. Most of you will marry and be blessed with the opportunity of having children. There is no greater blessing in this life than having children. Some of the most poignant passages in all of scripture capture the subliminal significance of children in our Heavenly Father's plan. They are truly an heritage of the Lord (see Psalm 127:3).
When I was still in my 20s, President McKay gave a prophetic message about marriage and children. He was 95 years old and in the last year of his life. He taught that the pure love between a man and a woman "is one of the noblest things on earth, and the bearing and rearing of children the highest of all human duties."7
President McKay then shared his concern about the increasing acceptance of divorce. In 1969 California was the first state that allowed what has been called no-fault divorce. Prior to that time there had to be a reason for the termination of a marriage such as infidelity or other extreme conditions. President McKay was obviously concerned that the institution of marriage was in trouble. He stated, "The increasing divorce rate in the United States today is a threatening menace to this nation's greatness."8
When we look back at what President McKay taught, it was truly prophetic. The editor and chief of US News & World Report, Mortimer B. Zuckerman, has chronicled the history and consequences that have occurred since 1969. Mr. Zuckerman reports that divorce rates have more than doubled since the 1960s. and births to unwed mothers "have risen from 5% in 1960 to about 35% today." He explains the results and the adverse impact on children. He makes it clear that the stable family of two biological parents "turns out to be the ideal vessel for molding character, for nurturing, for inculcating values, and for planning for a child's future."9 David Brooks concluded his article saying, "modern societies have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones they have a spiritual blind side."10 Isn't this what President McKay prophesied?
Let me assure you that the vast majority of marriages between faithful members of the Church are happy and successful. For those of you not yet married, you should move forward with faith and confidence to the ultimate goal of marriage and family. I would counsel you to find a righteous spouse that you admire and who will be your best friend. I assure you that the joy, love, and fulfillment experienced in loving, righteous families produces the greatest possible happiness we can achieve. It is also the foundation for a successful society. Those who are righteous and are not able to accomplish this goal are entitled to every blessing that our Father in heaven has for His children.
Be Involved in the World in a Positive Way
Third, be involved in the world in a positive way. As you embark on your various occupations, you can be a powerful force for good. A very significant challenge will be to adhere to the scriptural injunction to live in the world but not of the world. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that while we are in the world, "We are not of the world in the sense that we are under any necessity to partake of evil customs, fashions, follies, false doctrines and theories, "11 In addition, your contribution to the place where you live in a positive sense is part of your challenge if you are to be an example, share the gospel, and live in accordance with the teachings you have received at this great university.
To accomplish this, you graduates will want and need to be involved in the world in a very positive way. We must be tried and tested and found worthy of a greater kingdom. As President Monson has taught, "decisions determine destiny."12
This is not an easy life; it was not meant to be. Nevertheless, we know that the Lord will cause our trials to bless us and be for our good. He will give us the strength to stand firm despite opposition. Righteousness is its own reward, and the scriptures promise us the reward for righteousness is peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.13 I counsel you to be involved in the world in a positive way.
Live and Communicate Your Standards to Those You Work With
Fourth, live and communicate your standards to those you work with. A challenge will come to many of you as you attempt to find employment. You will need to be very wise. My recommendation to you would be to let potential employers know you have high ethical and moral standards, including a commitment to your family.
I learned the significance of this early in my career. After finishing my education at Stanford Law School, I had focused on working for a particular law firm. There were no members of the Church associated with the firm, but they were lawyers of character and ability. After a morning of interviews, the most senior partner and two other partners took me to lunch. The senior partner inquired if I would like a pre-lunch alcoholic drink and later if I would like wine. In both cases, I declined and the second time informed him that I was an active Latter-day Saint and did not drink alcoholic beverages.
I received an offer of employment from the firm and a few months later the senior partner told me that the offer of the alcoholic beverage was a test. He noted that my resume made it clear that I had served an LDS mission. He had determined that he would only hire me if I was true to the teachings of my own Church. He considered it a significant matter of character and integrity.
In my years in San Francisco I knew some members who avoided letting their associates know they were LDS. Invariably they were drawn into compromising situations which could have been avoided had they forthrightly declared what they believed.
Be a Light to the People Where You Live
Finally, you will need to be a light to the people where you live. I would not be concerned about returning to communities that have very few LDS members. When my wife and I were starting out as a newly married couple in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid 1960s, the LDS population was relatively small. In addition the San Francisco Bay Area had become a magnet for drug usage and all manner of promiscuous and sinful conduct. A concerned stake president back then asked the leadership of the Church if leaders should encourage Church members to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Elder Harold B. Lee, then a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was assigned to address the issue. He met with a group of priesthood leaders and told them that the Lord had not inspired the construction of a temple in our area only to have the members leave. His counsel was:
1. To create Zion in our hearts and homes
2. To be a light to those among whom we live
3. To focus on the ordinances and principles taught in the temple.
If you will follow President Lee's counsel, you can successfully be in the world but not of the world. However, we must each determine whether we will face the world or focus on the temple.
As you spread across the world, you will be faced with many worldly challenges. One of these challenges is that you will find the Church and its teachings are not understood and are sometimes misrepresented. Two years ago, Elder Ballard called on the graduates here at BYU-Hawaii to take responsibility, where appropriate, to let your voice be heard in defending the faith and correcting false information. He pointed out that it is particularly important for you to participate in the new media. In a world with diverse communications and with members spread all over the globe, there is a need for your generation to respond and defend against irresponsible and inaccurate descriptions of the Church if and when they occur. We are grateful for what has transpired since Elder Ballard's talk and I reiterate his challenge today. I counsel you to be a light to the people where you live.
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 institution of the family as the foundation for happiness
Involved in the world in a positive way
Living and communicating your standards to those you work with
A light to the people where you live
It is my prayer that as you leave BYU-Hawaii to pursue the true path to happiness in your families and in your professions, you will also use your knowledge and influence to bring greater righteousness, peace, understanding, and freedom to people all over the world. Again, to you graduates and your families, I express my congratulations and best wishes. May God be with each of you and bless you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Acts 17:18.
2. Frederic W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, 1898, p. 386-87.
3. Jim Holt, "A Word About the Wise," The New York Times Book Review, March 14, 2010, p. 12.
4. Brooks, David, "The Sandra Bullock Trade," The New York Times OP-ED, Tuesday, March 30, 2010, p. A23.
5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1976, p. 225-56.
6. Proverbs 6:20.
7. David O. McKay, Saving the Family, April 4, 1969, p. 15.
8. Ibid., p. 12.
9. Zuckerman, Mortimer B., US News & World Report, Oct 5, 2007, p. 72.
10. Brooks, David, Ibid.
11. Conference Report, October, 1916.
12. "Invitation to Exaltation," Ensign, June, 1993.
13. See D&C 59:23.