An Escalator to Heaven
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
December 13, 2014
Elder L. Whitney Clayton
of the Presidency of the Seventy
President Wheelwright, members of the faculty and administration, graduates, family members, and friends, aloha! I am delighted and honored to join with you today to celebrate the graduation of 285 students from Brigham Young University–Hawaii. On behalf of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Board of Trustees, whom I am pleased to represent today, I extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all who have helped make this day possible and compliment you graduates most warmly for your achievement. This is a wonderful day.
I hasten to add thanks to all the family members whose support has contributed so very much along the way. Husbands and wives, parents, children, siblings, and friends, we thank all of you for the love and encouragement you have given these marvelous graduates. Thank you all for helping them accomplish so magnificent a goal.
It is no small thing to complete a college education. It takes time and it takes toil. A college diploma comes at a cost. The other side of the coin is that your graduation gives you something of value. You graduates not only increase your earning potential, but you greatly enhance your capacity to be of service to mankind. You have magnified your ability to do good. Your education will help you become more capable husbands and wives, better prepared parents, and more useful employees and employers. Your potential for service to Church and community has increased as a consequence of your greater understanding of the world around you.
Perhaps a Christmas reminder would be of benefit here. You'll recall that in response to Ebenezer Scrooge's observation that Jacob Marley had always been a "good man of business," the ghost of Marley lamented, "Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).
You are more serviceable than you were the day you entered your first classroom here in Laie. Your graduation certifies that your ability to help others has grown.
It is important also to acknowledge with deep gratitude the support of Church members across the world, from financiers to subsistence farmers. Their tithes, collected and accumulated, are the economic backbone of Brigham Young University. The windows of heaven have poured out the blessing of education upon you literally, inasmuch as this institution is supported by the tithes of the Latter-day Saints. As graduates who can and should follow the pattern of paying a full and honest tithe, you can now make the lands where you will dwell in future years to be delightsome and to blossom in goodness and opportunity. In addition, your tithes will provide rich opportunity to future students who attend BYU–Hawaii. The Church and those future students depend on you to be full tithe payers.
Nearly everyone here will at one time or another have ridden an escalator between floors of an office building or shopping mall. Most of you have done so casually, without even thinking about the convenience and ease the escalator offers. I've ridden one escalator that is unlike any others anywhere. It puts all the other long escalator rides to shame. It's the Central-Mid Level Escalator in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is built on the side of steep hills, and the Central-Mid Level escalator moves passengers downhill from residential neighborhoods up in the hills in the mornings and then reverses directions and whisks them back up into the hills in the afternoons and evenings. The Central-Mid Levels escalator and walkway system in Hong Kong is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The escalator covers over 800 meters (2,600 ft. - that's half a mile) in distance and elevates over 135 meters (443 ft.) from bottom to top. More than 55,000 people ride the escalator each day. The total travel time is twenty minutes. One of our sons and his family lived in Hong Kong a few years ago and used that escalator countless times.
Escalators are tremendous modern conveniences. They really make it easier for us to go up a steep hillside in Hong Kong or anywhere else where we might need to go up to a new level of a building. They're terrific for moving us from one place to another, but they are not like real life. There is no escalator for accomplishment in life. There is no place we can stand and just wait for our talents to be burnished and our abilities to be sharpened. There is no easy street that leads to becoming something in life. Everything worth doing, everything worth becoming and accomplishing, takes work - plain old fashioned work. If we want to accomplish something, we must climb the stairs that take us to our destination. We may be blessed with talent and capacity, but raw ability alone has never produced anything of lasting value. Real progress and accomplishment are the product of careful planning, hard work, and the blessings of Heaven.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured this concept in his beautiful work "The Ladder of St. Augustine," which states in part,
We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.
The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.
The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise.
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
As you close doors here in Hawaii today, you will open them tomorrow somewhere else. Wherever your home will be, wherever you next go to stride into your future, one very portable blessing from BYU–Hawaii that you can take with you anywhere is a clear-eyed understanding of the value of work. You have dreams and goals, and work, with the blessings of God, is the stairway that will lead you upward.
You are now the age in which people marry and start families. It is a terrific time of life, a time of happiness and hopes and dreams. Most of you will marry. As important as your college diploma is to you, a marriage certificate from the House of the Lord is even more important. Great marriages and great families are the product of careful effort and constant attention. They don't just happen; they take time and planning and nurturing. They take work. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" teaches that, "Successful families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities." All of these nouns - faith, prayer, repentance, work, and so on - imply effort and investment.
The blessings of Heaven attend those who keep the commandments of God and seek to build their families. This is a form of work. Heaven can most easily help marriage partners who sincerely strive to make their union joyous and satisfying by following the commandments of God.
I tell you sincerely that I had no real comprehension when I married how vitally important to personal happiness my marriage would be, how essential it would be to all that I hold dear and treasure. I didn’t understand what a remarkable blessing it would be to be married to Kathy. She is the light and love of my life. Together, we have worked and built and hoped and prayed. Now, 41 years, 7 children, and 19 grandchildren later, I marvel at the blessing that marriage has become for both of us. I thank God for Kathy and for the family that has grown around us.
Many of you will work to provide a living for yourself and your family. You will find that over time opportunities come to those who qualify for them. Please don't allow yourself to be content with your present academic achievements and your present level of competence, as wonderful as they are today. Your degree is terrific, but it is not enough. The shrinking world that has resulted from the Internet and airplanes is going to affect you directly. In order to be safe economically, you will need to polish and refine your talents. You will need to keep current academically. Don't freeze your knowledge and capacities in 2014 but constantly work to improve them. Your ability to provide for your family will be greatly benefitted by your continually paying the price to be prepared. Studies show that you may likely be required to change your career several times, so you will need to be flexible and nimble. Doing the work necessary to stay completely current will be essential.
More than that, you would be wise to distinguish yourself in other ways. Make your word your bond. If you promise something, deliver it on time. Do your very best work on everything you do. Arrive for work a little early; stay a little late. Be sure that your employers receive a little extra value in exchange for the salary they pay you. Learn to be pleasant and not to complain. Don't bring problems to your employer, bring solutions. It doesn't take much genius to point out problems, but it takes something extraordinary to identify solutions.
I learned years ago that we can learn a lot by watching. The practice has served me well as I have observed husbands and wives, Church leaders, attorneys, businessmen, and many others. I've seen men and women who filled me with hope and stirred my imagination about the possibilities of life and others whose examples were only worthy of being forgotten. As a lawyer, I saw men and women who did excellent work and others whose work was shoddy. I met lawyers who were courteous and courtly and others who treated those around them in ways that were degrading to themselves and to the profession. Do some watching along the path of your lives. Identify people whose examples inspire you. Study their lives and emulate the patterns that they follow.
Similarly, you are going to be watched by countless others. You will be watched because you are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You will be watched because you are graduates from BYU–Hawaii. You will be watched because you will be married and have children, which will distinguish you from much of the world. Being married and having children will become increasingly unusual in the coming decades. You will be watched because you believe in God and because you keep the commandments of God. Some will ridicule your profession of belief, and cultural currents that denigrate belief may seem to isolate you. But those who watch you stand for truth and righteousness will acknowledge in their hearts that they admire you and wish that they had the same certainty of soul that blesses your lives.
The Apostle Paul taught an enduring truth in his epistle to the Galatians. He wrote of the law of the harvest. That law teaches that tiny carrot seeds still yield carrots and that if we plant pumpkin seeds, we harvest pumpkins, not pineapples. In Galatians, we read Paul's words,
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:7-9)
The law of the harvest is still in effect. The constants in life, like the law of the harvest, can be depended upon just as surely today as in days past. They are still in effect. The commandments of God have as much virtue and power today as they did in the days of Paul. They always will. When we pattern ourselves, our families, and our lives according to the commandments of God, we can safely trust that the law of the harvest will work to our benefit.
There is no escalator to Heaven, and there is no escalator to success, but there is a stairway. With God's help, you can work your way up that stairway all the way to the top. So climb on, wonderful graduates. Life beckons you with alluring promise of happiness and blessings. Trust on, work on, pray on, and go forward and upward. Trust that the staircase ahead will take you up to achievements that will bless you, your families, and all those around you. You will find success if you will follow the pattern and ascend the stairway that leads to it. God wants you to succeed in life's great quest to keep His commandments, improve yourselves, love your families, and become people whose lives bless all around them.