The Essence of Education
Boyd K. Packer
of the Quorum
of the Twelve
(Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, p.22-30)
Address given at Weber College graduation 10 June 1983, at which time an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities was conferred on Elder Packer.
In order to have the audience somewhat at ease, I make it a practice to begin a graduation address with these profound words:
The month of June approaches, and soon through all the land
The graduation speakers will tell us where we stand.
We stand at Armageddon in the vanguard of the press.
We're standing at the portals, at the gateway to success.
We're standing on the threshold of careers, all brightly lit.
And in the midst of all this standing, we sit and sit and sit.
The genius who wrote that entitled it "Oh, My Aching Baccalaureate!"
I thought that if you knew that I know that graduation speeches can be too long, you might relax and listen.
These assignments do not come easy for me, and I am painfully aware that after the tribute paid and the great honor that was bestowed upon me it would not do at all for me to give a dumb talk, nor a long one. As a graduate of Weber College I want very much to uphold the honor of our alma mater.
It is not uncommon for graduation speeches to be given before, but not really to, the graduates. A graduation exercise provides the platform for a speaker to address the public on such subjects as human rights or disarmament. It is a time, for instance, when a United States president may deliver a major foreign policy address.
While I know that it may be something of a departure, I intend to talk directly to you, the graduates. The rest of you may listen, or doze, as you please. What I say will not noticeably affect either the environment or the economy. But it could--I hope will--profoundly affect some individual graduate.
Weber State College is a very good school. The faculty holds 196 doctors' degrees and 146 masters' degrees. Unlike the honorary degrees conferred upon us tonight, those degrees were acquired in the old-fashioned way--they were earned.
Is Part of Your Education Neglected?
It would be foolish of me to try to repeat, less impressively and certainly in less detail, what your professors have already covered in classes. It is left, therefore, for me to concentrate on things that are not listed in the catalog of courses nor regarded as part of the curriculum. They are things which it is assumed everyone already knows or that somehow everyone will learn without having been taught them. I happen to believe that nothing receives less attention and is more neglected than the obvious.
And regardless of what your transcript of credit may say, one part of your education may have been neglected, leaving you developed only to a grade-school level. Now that you are graduating, you would do well to concentrate on those things that are scarcely touched upon in universities in our day.
For instance, you who have studied chemistry can mix a complicated formula without blowing up the chemistry lab. But have you learned to blend the ingredients of a happy marriage without having it blow up in your face?
You who have studied language can now construct a proper sentence and convey even the finest shades of meaning. But will you use that ability to sell unwitting customers something that they neither need nor can afford? Or will you promise, without quite saying so, great returns on investments that are actually worthless?
You who have studied accounting can keep complicated ledgers of principal and interest and increase. But do you intend to pay back your student loan?
You who have studied drama can write or direct a play, or interpret the lines in any script. But can you get your act together offstage? Will your role in life be as a bumbling comedian, as a villain, or as the star of a self-made tragedy?
Others Not So Fortunate
I have talked to young people in sixty or seventy countries; and compared to the opportunities most of them enjoy, it surely must be said of you that you have had the opportunity for an excellent education. In addition to the excellent faculty, you have studied on a campus that is beautiful and you have had the use of an outstanding library. Many others are not so blessed.
A year or two ago I visited the University of Nanking. It had been one of the leading universities in the People's Republic of China, but during the Cultural Revolution everything that was traditional or Western was destroyed by the Red Guard, including the university libraries. I asked to visit the stacks. One would weep to think of what had been burned, compared to the meager collection of paperback books that now serve eager students.
On another occasion I visited a university in a large city in South America. I noticed a student sitting on the ground (there were no lawns on that campus) reading a manuscript. It was a ditto copy with purple ink, typical of a copying process used years ago. After a brief conversation he excused himself with the comment that he had to get back to his study. That worn stack of dirty, dog-eared paper was a textbook. He had borrowed it and could keep it only a short time.
Only a month ago I was going through customs in a large city in the Middle East. A 747 plane had landed just minutes before, and the passengers, perhaps four hundred of them, were ahead of us at passport control. They were all dressed alike in poorly fitting, baggy, wrinkled clothes. They had spent the night on the plane and were tired and sweaty. More than anything else, they looked like prisoners of war.
But they were not prisoners of war. They were from Pakistan and were obviously coming to work as laborers. They had come with hope. They would send their earnings back to wives and children and parents in a land where there is hunger and deprivation. Much of what they earned would go to agents who recruited them. The separation from their families would last for years.
One young man, perhaps thirty years old, came pushing his way to the front of the line. Other passengers were of course complaining. He stood next to me for a moment and I noticed he was holding his entry card up and pressing his thumb against the lower corner.
Then I understood--he was illiterate. He had been separated from his group while someone filled out the landing card for him. But it required a signature, which in his case would be a thumb-print because he did not know how to write his name. I thought of a wife and two or three children waiting at home; of the long separation; of the meager opportunities life would afford this man and his loved ones in Pakistan.
And then, interestingly enough, I thought of you, and of the talk I was to give you. I compared his opportunity with yours. Some of you are from the country he was to enter, some from the one he left. Your fortunes will be different indeed from his, because you have had the opportunity to attend school. Of course, only the future will reveal whether you received an education. The difference between being well schooled and well educated rests somehow in what you do with the knowledge you have gained.
Knowledge Not An End
I was acquainted with a Harvard professor of economics. He once told me that when he was a student in Germany someone asked him what he intended to do with the knowledge he was gaining. He said the question made him very angry. Why did he have to do anything with it? Was knowledge not worth acquiring for itself alone?
Somewhere in the economic difficulties we now suffer are the theories of the professor of economics who thought knowledge was an end in itself.
A number of years ago there was a student at Columbia University who was known as the "perennial student." He had been left an inheritance which stipulated that it should continue as long as he was engaged in collegiate study. Thereafter, the income was to go to a charity.
This man remained a student until he died. It was said that he had been granted every degree offered by Columbia University and had taken practically every course. No field of knowledge was foreign to him. He was probably more widely read than the best of his professors. He was described as the "epitome of erudition," But he could not possibly be described as educated. He fit the description of those spoken of in the scripture who are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). He was inherently selfish. What a pity! What a waste!
Treasures to Use for Mankind
I do not know who is the author of these very meaningful lines:
Today a professor, in a garden relaxing
Like Plato of old in the academy shade,
Spoke out in a manner I never had heard him,
And this is one of the things that he said:
Suppose that we state as a tenet of wisdom
That knowledge is not for delight of the mind,
Nor an end in itself, but a packet of treasure
To hold and employ for the good of mankind.
A torch or a candle is barren of meaning
Except it give light to men as they climb.
And theses and tomes are but impotent jumble
Unless they are tools in the building of time.
We scholars toil on with the zeal of a miner
For nuggets and nuggets, and one nugget more.
But scholars are needed to study the uses
Of all the great masses of data and lore.
And truly our tireless and endless researches
Need yoking with man's daily problems and strife,
For truth and beauty and virtue have value
Confirmed by their uses in practical life.
The diploma you now receive is not intrinsically worth anything. But it symbolizes knowledge that you have accumulated class by class and course by course over the last several years. That is an inestimable treasure. Road signs, newspapers, charts, graphs, bills and receipts, books of every kind, and entry cards as well are all yours at a glance. For the young man I met in customs, they will always be an obstacle and an embarrassment.
Your student loan is not the only debt you have to repay. Although you have earned it yourself, that diploma carries with it a very great responsibility indeed.
A year or two ago I was assigned to conduct the graduation at Brigham Young University. There was a large graduating class, much like we see here today. At those services it is the duty of the presiding officer, representing the Board of Trustees, to give parting counsel, together with a blessing, to the graduates.
I had carefully prepared my remarks. But something happened which made it advisable to take only a minute or two. So I slipped the carefully prepared talk into my briefcase in favor of a few off-the-cuff words of parting counsel. I mentioned opportunity and obligation, and I quoted a scripture. Actually, I misquoted it. The following week I received a most interesting letter from a woman who pointed out my error and told of an incident wherein she had misquoted the same verse.
What I had said was, "where much is given, much is expected." As she pointed out, the scripture, which is in both the Doctrine and Covenants and the New Testament, states: "Of him unto whom much is given much is required" (D&C 82:3; see also Luke 12:48).
There is a big difference, a very big difference indeed, between something that is expected and something that is required.
It is my conviction that of you who graduate tonight, much will be required. And, in the eternal scheme of things, if you do not give meaningful and unselfish service you will be judged as having been highly schooled but poorly educated.
Spiritual Education Is Often Neglected
Your years here at Weber College have filled your future with a world of opportunity. I wonder if there has been added along the way a sufficient sense of obligation. I wonder if in all of your schooling you have come to realize that intrinsically that young illiterate father I met in an airport is worth quite as much as you are worth. Although you have had the opportunity to attend school and he has not, strangely enough it is possible that he will end up with a better education. For it is not necessarily the education of the intellect which is the crowning achievement in life. It is time you learn, if you have not already, that there is a part of our nature, the part we term spiritual, that needs training as well. It is the spiritual part of our education that is most easily neglected. And consequently we see many who are academic and intellectual giants but morally are puny and stunted and diseased.
One often hears the nonsense that we can develop ourselves spiritually simply by communing with nature, and also that no consciously organized study is necessary. If that procedure works, why did you not prepare for a career simply by reading widely or by observing carefully? Why did you think it worth your while to register at Weber College?
If only your intellect has been broadened in college, you will not be happy. It is the training of the spirit that strengthens the moral fiber of man. If you are immoral, you will create an immoral world, you may even live in such a world already in your mind. If you are not honest, you will make a dishonest world. If you are not decent, you will not be happy. That will be true in spite of how much you own or how prominent you become. Without a balance between the intellectual and the spiritual we move through life without achieving real success.
Yet it is the understanding of almost everyone that success, to be complete, must include as essential ingredients a generous portion of both fame and fortune. The world seems to work on that premise. But the premise is false. The Lord taught otherwise.
The Measure of Success
By the time you receive a college diploma you should have learned that you need not either be rich or hold high position to be completely successful and truly happy. In fact, if these things come to you-and they may-true success must be achieved in spite of them and not because of them.
It is remarkably difficult to teach this truth. If one who is not well known, and not well compensated, claims that he has learned for himself that neither fame nor fortune are essential to success, we tend to reject his statement as self-serving. What else could he say and not count himself a failure? On the other hand, if someone who has possession of fame or fortune asserts that neither matters to success or happiness, we suspect that his expression also is self-serving, even patronizing. Therefore we will not accept as reliable authorities either those who have fame and fortune or those who have not. We question that either can be an objective witness.
That leaves only one course open to us: trial and error, to learn for ourselves, by experience, about the relationship success bears to prominence and wealth or their opposites. Thus we struggle through life, perhaps missing both fame and fortune, to finally learn one day that one can, indeed, succeed without possessing either. Or we may, one day, have both and learn that neither has made us happy; that neither is basic to the recipe for true success and for complete happiness. That is a very slow way to learn. As Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac, "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."
It is true that it is possible to be both rich and famous and at the same time succeed spiritually. But the Lord warned of the difficulty of it when he talked of camels and needles.
Position and wealth, then, are no more essential to true happiness in mortality than their absence can prevent you from achieving it. Mortal life is a school, and most of the tests we undergo are multiple-choice tests.
If your growth in college has been solely intellectual, you may not have learned in the course of earning your diploma that the choice in life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is it between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil, and that is a very different matter indeed. When we finally understand this lesson, thereafter our happiness will not be determined by material things. We may be happy without them or successful in spite of them.
As with success, our worth is not measured by renown or by what we own. And you may someday come to know that the poor young man I saw in an airport in the Middle East may receive higher grades on his transcript of credit in spite of his lack of schooling than you may receive because of your schooling.
Unless you do something with your schooling, in the eternal scheme of things it will end up to be as a burden on your back, not as wings on your heels. And the only way I know for you to ensure that it will be wings rather than a burden is to develop the spiritual part of your nature.
The crucial test of life, I repeat, does not center in the choice between fame and obscurity, nor between wealth and poverty. The greatest decision of life is between good and evil. Nor need we choose between developing our intellectual capacities and our spiritual capacities. The sensors which assist us to make correct choices are only incidentally academic or intellectual. They are primarily spiritual. With balanced attention to each you may have the best of both, and then you will be educated.
For now, your schooling is finished. Now you move into a future divided into the days and weeks and months ahead. Some of you stride boldly and recklessly forward. Others move with faltering, hesistant steps.
Some of you move forward with the steady confidence which bespeaks an educated soul. That confidence reveals a mind in which such words as faith and spirit and church and prayer are precious words; where decency and morality and honor are revered; where service is assumed as obligation.
Knowledge is depicted often as a lamp or as a torch, suggesting light. It has been said that a hero is one who walks the dark pathways of life setting torches along the way so that others may see; a saint is one who walks the dark pathways of life and is himself a light. On the matter of a heroism-and a sainthood-open to us all, an unidentified poet has written:
We cannot all be heroes
And thrill a hemisphere
With some great, daring venture,
Some deed that mocks at fear.
But we can fill a lifetime
With kindly acts, and true.
For there's always noble service
For noble souls to do.
May you each find your way to that kind of heroism, which is a mark of the educated soul.