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BYU Speeches

How to Have Joy and Fulfillment

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In my last general conference talk, entitled “Seeking the Lord,” I spoke of the importance of making inspired decisions in the online world in which we live today. As I referred to the use of technology and, in particular, the use of cellphones, I said that “life is not confined to a four-inch screen” (José A. Teixeira, Ensign, May 2015). I just want you to know that since then I have upgraded to a six-and-a-half-inch screen. Nonetheless, the statement remains true: Life is not confined to a screen, no matter the size. It is good to be here with you this morning. I will not talk about technology today. Rather, I hope to share a few lessons and principles that will help you find joy and fulfillment in life through making inspired decisions and setting wise priorities. Sister Teixeira and I were both born in Portugal, though she spent her childhood in Africa. I will come back to that part of the story a little later. Portugal is a country founded in AD 868 with a rich history and culture; it is situated in the westernmost part of Europe. We have lived almost all of our married life outside of Portugal though—primarily in Germany, France, and Switzerland—because of my professional career before I was called to full-time service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our three children—the youngest of whom is here with us today—were born in Portugal, Germany, and France. They studied in Switzerland, Germany, Brazil (while we served a mission in São Paulo), Portugal, England, and the United States. Our two boys served missions—one in Tokyo, Japan, and the other in New York City. After this very brief introduction, you may be saying, “Wow! That is a lot of places and a lot of change.” Indeed! I am sure you can imagine that as we lived in all of these countries, we were faced with many decisions and choices—what we needed to do, which direction we should go, and how we should set priorities in order to find joy and fulfillment both individually and as a family. The same will be true for each of you. In your own unique way, you will undoubtedly have to make decisions and choices and set priorities that will shape your life. Part of the impression I want to leave with you today is that making inspired decisions and setting wise priorities is a matter to be considered at all stages of your life, particularly at the stage you are in now. Your priorities of today will be your joy and fulfillment of tomorrow. Some additional context might be useful to illustrate what I am trying to share with you. Remember the Greatest Priority Let me start by talking about my own country. The location of Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture and its people’s way of living: Portuguese

Strength and Safety Through Gathering

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Brothers and sisters, you are an impressive sight. I commend you for taking the time from your busy schedules to participate in this devotional. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a strong tradition of gathering together to be uplifted and inspired. The semiannual general conference we enjoyed earlier this month is a good example. For more than 130 years, the Church’s general conferences were held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000 people. In 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted that the Tabernacle was getting too small to accommodate those who wanted to attend conference. That is when President Hinckley announced plans to build the 21,000-seat Conference Center.1 Why go to all that trouble—especially with technology emerging that would allow general conference to reach more and more people in their homes? Well, it seems that gathering is important to the Lord. As President Hinckley later said: The building of this structure has been a bold undertaking. We worried about it. We prayed about it. We listened for the whisperings of the Spirit concerning it. And only when we felt the confirming voice of the Lord did we determine to go forward.2 Now we can hardly imagine general conference without the Conference Center. Any of you who have attended general conference know that there is something powerful about being in the Conference Center with 21,000 other Latter-day Saints—just as there is something powerful about this gathering at today’s devotional. Clearly, both general conference and BYU devotionals are about more than just receiving a spiritual message. If that were their only purpose, the speakers could simply prepare their messages and have them published. But part of what makes general conference and BYU devotionals so meaningful is that they involve gathering—in the Conference Center, here in the Marriott Center, and in many locations worldwide. I also find it interesting that the Church’s revolutionary PathwayConnect program, which uses the internet to bring the blessings of education to people around the world, includes weekly gatherings at a local Church facility in addition to online coursework. These gatherings are considered a vital part of PathwayConnect—and many students report that they are their favorite part.3 I believe something powerful happens anytime we gather as God’s covenant people anywhere in the world, no matter how many people the gathering may include. That power can be difficult to describe, but perhaps these words of the Savior explain it best: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Our Father in Heaven wants to gather us because there is great strength and safety in gathering. He has said “that the g

“We Seek After These Things”

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Dear brothers and sisters, my wife, Susan, and I are grateful to be with each of you today on this special campus. Don’t you love fall and a new school year? Some here today are freshmen. Welcome. I learned many things as a freshman. For example, as a new freshman, I learned that, while it was not necessarily obvious to me, most people could immediately tell if I was wearing a collared shirt or a collared pajama top (even under a sweater) to class. Similarly, as a new freshman, I learned detergent and bleach are both used to wash clothes but with quite different effects. Some here today are seniors. Welcome. You are trying to decide which is harder—graduating or knowing what to do after graduating. We know how you feel. Some here today are preparing for missions with faith and anticipation, and some are returning from missions with spiritual maturity and significant service and testimony. We thank you. In the rhythm of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, of missions, of seeking a companion who doesn’t get transferred, and of graduate studies, there is a wonderful sense of our time and our season. Don’t you love President Russell M. Nelson? In this month’s general conference, President Nelson promised: If we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.1 Across the world, there are only four places where we find in close proximity a house of the Lord, a higher-education campus sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a community of Saints seeking learning “by study and also by faith.”2 Of course, in every institute, Pathway group, or righteous gathering where two or three come together in His name,3 we delight in seeking after that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”4 Daily I am grateful for things I learned and experienced at BYU—sometimes years ago. I could not have imagined then, until I have needed them now, how valuable and significant formative BYU lessons and experiences can be. Here is an example. On a recent flight from Salt Lake City to New York City, my seat assignment was changed at the last moment—in this case, perhaps not without purpose. I asked my new seat companion if she was traveling to New York or Milan, the plane’s final destination. The question opened a conversation. After explaining she had spent her life as a bilingual, bicultural Italian-English translator, she began quizzing me about Italian art and culture. As she queried me about Michelangelo, I remembered a BYU humanities class with Professor Todd A. Britsch. I was able to say that in Michelangelo’s statue Pietà, the same piece of Carrara marble feels alive and lifele

Humble Uncertainty

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Students, one month of the semester is now past. For you beginning students, there is plenty of growth ahead, and I invite you to anticipate the time in a few years when you will assemble in this place wearing graduation robes to receive your degree. For those in the middle or finishing up, I invite you to look back on your experiences here and contemplate the value that attending college has added to your life. What If God Gave Us What We Asked for Instead of What We Need? Now, imagine if, during the second week of your first semester, while feeling sorry for yourself after failing a quiz, you had texted your parents about your doubts regarding college. Consider how great your relief and consolation would have been had they immediately driven to Provo, packed you up, and taken you back home, where a fake diploma, conveniently purchased online, was sitting on your bed along with a note reading, “It’s just a piece of paper anyway!” I am certain, however, that the relief would have worn off rather quickly, especially as you came to realize that you would be living the rest of your life in your parents’ basement! College is anything but “just a piece of paper.” It is all about the unique experiences you have, the struggle and confrontation with weakness, the self-discovery and overcoming, the ripening and growing in wisdom, and especially the learning that will happen with roommates and part-time jobs as much as—if not more than—in class. Actually, life itself is very much like college. There may be times of fear when we wish for the tests and exams to be simplified or waived altogether and when we ignore the fact that life is a complex system designed by loving Heavenly Parents to make us into better people and prepare us to confront an eternity of expanding opportunities. Sometimes, when we pray to have our trials end quickly, we are like first-year students sending home pity-me texts. If God were to immediately grant our request and swoop in and rescue us, well, then for us eternity might just prove to be something of a basement experience. Instead, God, like other wise parents, knows that great things will come out of the difficulties and challenges we face because He knows our eternal identity. We, on the other hand, are clueless about that identity most of the time and live our lives forever perched on the edge of a dark, inscrutable path we call the future, uncertain of what it contains. We cannot see what lies ahead, and most of the time that makes it discouraging, if not utterly terrifying. This morning I would like to explore some ideas about how we might move forward into the future to become all that God knows we can become. One of the things I like most about my discipline of comparative literature is that it often brings together a variety of interesting works of literature under the same analytic microscope, often with very surprising results. In that spirit, I woul

Loving Our Neighbors

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In the 1970s my father arrived on BYU campus to begin his studies. He was not the average BYU student, especially during that time period. My father had come to BYU from Venezuela, a country that many students at BYU had never even heard of at the time. He spoke virtually no English, and he was Catholic. The way my father likes to tell the story, he boarded a plane to the United States, excited to venture outside of his conservative Catholic upbringing and expecting the secular American college experience he had seen in Hollywood movies. Imagine his shock when he discovered that his parents, my abuela and abuelo, had arranged for him to attend BYU so that a group of people known to him only as “the Mormons” could keep an eye on him while he was far from home. My dad found himself in a strange place surrounded by people who were very different from him. He found the sights and smells of his tropical Caribbean home—mango trees, macaws, coffee, and the ocean—replaced by those of BYU. He was struck by the flowerbeds on campus, which changed with the seasons; the empty streets and closed storefronts every Sunday; and the snow. But the students and faculty of BYU welcomed him into the community with open arms. Professors invited my father to share his perspective and experiences in class; roommates and friends took my father skiing and on road trips to see the United States. A professor invited my father to live with his family for several months while my father adjusted to life here. My father could have chosen to transfer to a different institution, but he returned to BYU every fall from Venezuela. He learned English here, and then he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. It has been almost forty years since my father was a student at BYU, but he remembers his time here very fondly. In fact, while I was growing up in Venezuela, my father could spot missionaries of the Church from a mile away. Even though he was not a Latter-day Saint, he would look for them and talk to them, often asking if they were BYU students. I am grateful to the BYU community for being so welcoming to someone with life experiences so unlike the majority’s; for being willing to listen to and learn from someone with a different culture, language, and religion; and for making room in their individual lives for someone who might have seemed like an outsider. I too have been the beneficiary of others’ efforts to reach out to people from different walks of life. My early childhood was spent in and around the city of Maracaibo in Venezuela. My mother, a U.S. citizen whom my father had met here at BYU, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took me to church with her on Sundays. During the week, though, I attended a Catholic school for girls. At the beginning of my first year at Colegio Altamira, one of the nuns at my school—I wish I remembered her name—tapped me on the shoulder and

That We Might Have Joy

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We are taught that “Adam fell that men might be; and men [and women] are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). The second half of that truth makes clear that we are all here on earth to learn from our experiences and especially to learn how to have joy in our lives. However, the word might in that equation indicates that having joy in our lives is not a given. It says that we might have joy, not that we will have joy. Joy is something we have to choose. I believe that how we approach that choice, rather than the circumstances in which we find ourselves, is the key factor in whether we will have joy. I believe that most of us have much more control over whether we are joyful than we may think. Let me illustrate. The story is told of a gentleman named Harvey Mackay, who was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey. He handed [Harvey] a laminated card and said: “I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk, I’d like you to read my mission statement.” Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: Wally’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment. This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean! As he slid behind the wheel, Wally [asked Harvey if he would like something to drink. Wally had a variety of beverages to choose from. Harvey was quite surprised by the offer and the variety and chose a soft drink]. . . . Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.” As they were pulling away, Wally handed [Harvey] another laminated card. “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.” And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey ­preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts. “Tell me, Wally,” [Harvey] asked the driver, “have you always served customers like this?” Wally smiled into the rearview mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s onl

Receiving Revelation

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This is an exciting time to be at BYU. It is the beginning of a new semester, the women’s volleyball team is ranked number one, and no one of you is more than a week behind in your classes. If we keep those two things in the same order, we will be doing well this semester. It is also a time when there is much of significance happening in the world and in the Church. The inspired changes in priesthood quorums and the new emphasis on ministering announced at the April general conference provide ample evidence that revelation is thriving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the Lord is hastening His work.1 President Russell M. Nelson seemed to forecast that even greater things are in store for us when, at the Sunday morning session of conference, he declared: Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory.2 The fact that you are here on earth at this stage of its history is a compliment to you and your potential. As President Nelson recently observed: There is something undeniably special about this generation of youth. Your Heavenly Father must have great confidence in you to send you to earth at this time. You were born for greatness! The days ahead will be breathtaking. Father in Heaven must have known that you would be just the people He needs to do remarkable things in the latter days—the days leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.3 A Challenge and an Invitation But with that exciting celestial vote of confidence comes a prophetic challenge. Following his declaration that Christ will perform some of His mightiest works in our day, President Nelson added in general conference an equally thrilling warning and then later an invitation: In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.4 In that same Sunday morning talk, President Nelson underscored the need for us to receive revelation: If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.5 At the end of his remarks, he added this urgent invitation: My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. . . . Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.6 Learning That Leads to Inspiration, or Revelation This prophetic charge to increase our ability to learn by revelation is consistent with our recent university emp

Fulfilling the Destiny of Zion

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Welcome to another school year. It is such a joy to be with you again. Since we met in this capacity last year, there have been so many exciting developments that it would be impossible to list them all. Let me just share some examples of student achievements in this past year. More than 2,000 of our students—an all-time high—had a study-abroad experience this past year, participating in more than 200 programs in seventy-five countries. Truly the world is our campus. At the same time, inspiring learning opportunities were also provided to our students here in Provo. More than 1,100 BYU students registered for on-campus internships. These students worked in teams on projects for businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. Although the program is offered through the Marriott School of Business, 49 percent of the students who participated were not Marriott School students. On the athletic front, the men’s cross-country team finished third in the nation, and the women’s volleyball team reached the sweet-sixteen round of the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year. Individual students flourished here as well. To cite two of hundreds of examples, art student Julian Harper won the BLOOOM international young artist art competition, beating out more than 2,300 student artists from more than ninety countries. And Anne Thomas was selected as a Gates Scholar, one of only thirty-five undergraduates from across the world who will receive a full-tuition scholarship to Cambridge University under that program. Anne is the fifth BYU Gates Scholar. And so we begin a new year, determined to build on the successes of the past. As I have thought about what I could say to provide some motivating context for what lies ahead of us, my mind was drawn to the prophecy of President John Taylor that was highlighted in President Spencer W. Kimball’s second-century address: You will see the day that Zion will be as far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. You mark my words, and write them down, and see if they do not come to pass.1 This is, for me, a soul-stirring prophecy. Equally stirring is President Kimball’s brief but deepening elaboration: Surely we cannot refuse that rendezvous with history because so much of what is desperately needed by mankind is bound up in our being willing to contribute to the fulfillment of that prophecy.2 As I read this prophecy and President Kimball’s inspired and enthusiastic embrace of the rendezvous with history that it describes, I was struck by two things that had not stood out to me before in my many readings of President Taylor’s statement. First, I noticed that President Taylor indicated that we were to outpace the world with regard to “everything pertaining to learning of every kind.” The prophec

Mastered by Our Discipleship

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Two years ago this week President Worthen shared with the university community his vision for inspiring learning.1 This afternoon I hope to further describe some of the contours of that effort, particularly as it relates to experiential learning and student-centered research. I will also share my sense of why the whole inspiring learning project depends on “having [our] hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another”2—the theme of this university conference. Inspiring Learning As I considered my own inspiring learning efforts, my mind went back fifteen years. It may still be the case, but at that time, local junior high students were encouraged to spend one day shadowing a parent at work on what was called Groundhog Shadow Day. My son Danny and his friend decided to come shadow me. Frankly, watching me sit at a computer, answer emails, and write didn’t seem like a particularly thrilling day, save for the promise of a trip to the Wilk’s gaming center, but they would at least be able to see me teach a class. My son and his friend came and sat in the back of my torts class, which was held in an old computer lab. The computers had been removed, but they weren’t necessary anyway because all the law students had laptops and brought them to class. The lab did, however, retain its comfortable leather chairs. I taught my class, and I felt like it went quite well—­perhaps it was even inspiring. After class, my son Danny bounded to the front of the room with a joyful look on his face and said, “Dad, I want to go to law school.” For just a brief moment, I thought: “Wow. This is great. My son has seen me in action and is impressed. He thinks I am a fantastic teacher, and, even better, I have lit some spark for learning.” As these happy thoughts filled my head, he continued, “I want to go to law school because the students get to sit in comfy swivel chairs, and they can play solitaire on their laptops if they want.” Take pin and insert it into my balloon. Let’s start from the proposition that I have plenty of my own work to do on inspiring learning. One reason I chose to spend some time today on inspiring learning is that I sense there is some confusion about its content, particularly that inspiring learning is being conflated with experiential learning. I believe some of the confusion may come from the fact that President Worthen is working with donors to build a $120 million Inspiring Learning Endowment and that thus far the funding from that endowment has supported our efforts to expand experiential learning opportunities for our students. It is important to recognize, however, that the two are not the same. Experiential learning is a subset of inspiring learning. Inspiring learning is a much broader concept, encompassing all our efforts to achieve the mission and aims of the university. In his 2016 address on inspiri

“Look unto Him in Every Thought”

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It is such a remarkable privilege to be here with you today. The years I spent on this campus afforded me a delightful assortment of memories, but never in a thousand years would I have imagined that I would be standing here addressing you today, my dear brothers and sisters. I honor and thank my Heavenly Father for this opportunity. I had the sweetest and most distinct impression last week that my great-great-great-grandfather and my great-great-great-grandmother had something to do with my speaking here today. His name is Brigham Young, and his first wife’s name is Miriam Works Young. It is good to have support from both sides of the veil. Being a student at Brigham Young University was a life-changing experience for me. Coming from a small town in Oregon, I felt the world open up to me right here in Provo, Utah. The Spirit was alive in every classroom, in each activity, and in the incredible roommates, friends, and teachers I loved and learned from. It has been priceless over the years to watch our children have their own life-changing experiences at this wonderful university. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Gigi, our three-year-old granddaughter, “Will you go to college?” She said yes. I asked if she would go to BYU. She again said yes. Then she turned to her daddy and asked, “Daddy, will you come with me?” One of the sweet highlights of my BYU experience was meeting my precious husband, Rob. Little did we know during our growing up years that we lived just a little over an hour from each other. But we have all heard of BYU’s reputation for bringing people together, and that reputation became our reality. Rob was called as my family home evening “father,” and the ward rules prevented us from dating that year. But as soon as he was released, we made up for lost time. We just celebrated our forty-fourth anniversary. This dear man has put toothpaste on my toothbrush nearly every night of those forty-four years. I know he has been tempted a time or two to surprise me by putting something other than toothpaste on my brush, but he never has. Although life is not over yet, is it? Growing Our Spiritual Muscles My dear brothers and sisters, I welcome you to Campus Education Week! Oh, how wonderful it is to learn! We have gathered here to be taught, inspired, and challenged. I pray that the Holy Ghost will be with each of us as we learn, apply, and change. Dear friends, I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is our Heavenly Father’s practical guide for happy living. President Brigham Young explained the practicality of the gospel in these words: The principles of eternity and eternal exaltation are of no use to us, unless they are brought down to our capacities so that we practice them in our lives.1 The Lord likewise told us, “I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for yo

If You Want to Go Far, Go Together

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What a great day! It is an inspiring sight to see all of you here today to celebrate both an end and a beginning! I want you to know that blue is my favorite color, so I know I am in the right place today. I was also an August BYU grad, exactly thirty years ago. I am glad we can celebrate together today. As we have just been so beautifully taught by President Worthen, you have all entered and learned, and now it is time to go forth and serve. I say this to all of you and to each of you. Your future is radiant with promise and with opportunity, and the world needs you. I love BYU! BYU exists to provide an outstanding education in an atmosphere of faith. But I believe BYU also exists because of the opportunity that it provides to connect us with others. I speak to you today on behalf of the BYU Alumni Association. Our motto is Connected for Good. I want to share with you what I think that means. My dad and my mom met at BYU in a class called Your Religious Problems. They were married a short time later, which, I suppose, solved their religious problems. They followed the example of their parents—all BYU graduates. Orval Hafen attended “the BYU” in the 1920s. He was part of BYU’s debate team. He ran for student body president, and he lost! But it wasn’t all bad. He met Ruth Clark, who, he wrote, “rather shied away from my attentions, but artful little rascal that she was, gave me just enough encouragement to keep me in misery” (Orval Hafen, Journal, vol. 1, 4; in possession of the author). So even though he lost the election at BYU, he won Ruth Clark’s heart, and they were married. My mom’s mom, Trudy Kartchner, grew up poor in Colonia Juárez, Mexico. With the encouragement of her high school religion teacher, she wrote a letter to BYU president Franklin S. Harris, who responded with a scholarship offer for tuition and a job to earn money for rent and food. She went to class for six months and then she worked for six months until finally she graduated. In her own words, “Being on the BYU campus was a time I enjoyed more than any other in my life. . . . I wouldn’t have missed that for anything” (“The Life Stories of Gertrude Skousen and Ray William Kartchner,” 43; in possession of the author). I hope each of you graduates have similar feelings about your time here. Trudy met her husband, Ray, at BYU. Ray attended BYU during the Depression. He worked his way through school by washing test tubes in the biology lab for twenty-five cents an hour. He got a degree in biology and was a member of BYU’s tennis team. In the summer of 1987, I met my wife, Joy, here on what was supposed to be a group night hike to the Y that ended up being just the two of us. That was okay with me, and it solved one of my most pressing religious problems. She was, without a doubt, my very best BYU connection. But when we talk about our BYU connections, we aren’t only tal

Embracing the Truth

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Fellow students, graduates, parents, siblings, peers, and teachers, good afternoon! I would like to begin by addressing my peers. Friends, I expect that you, like me, are probably feeling excited today and perhaps a little anxious and maybe even a little burned-out at the end of this road to graduation. And certainly you and I are each asking ourselves the essential questions: So what? What will my BYU experience amount to? What am I going to do with it? I select the word experience intentionally in posing these questions because BYU has provided us with much more than an education. Yes, we have a shared experience of taking classes, but this has included more: living in Provo, playing intramurals, hiking the Y, dating, deliberating on the details of the Honor Code, and so on. Over the course of these experiences, you and I have encountered new facts or truths about the world and about ourselves. Some of these truths delight us—such as when we realize that an act of service we have given has lifted someone’s daily burden. Other truths are a little harder to ­swallow—such as when we recognize that the girl we have been pursuing for several weeks really isn’t that interested. Both of these kinds of truths, when faced fully, can teach us essential human lessons. I wish to share with you three stories from my BYU experience that helped me learn about the power that comes from willingly accepting the truth. I hope they will build our courage to accept both the easy and hard truths we all face. Transform Our Hearts The first story came from a study of the ­conversion of Saint Augustine, the great fourth-century Christian thinker whose story I became familiar with here at BYU. Augustine’s words are inspiring, but it was the months before his conversion that caught my attention. These were days when Augustine claimed that he wanted to follow God but had a “staggering” will, unable to commit to the godly life with a “strong . . . will” to “take heaven” (Confessions, book 8, chapter 8, 19). He famously prayed, like many of us, no doubt, “Grant me [self-restraint, Lord], but not yet” (see Confessions, book 8, chapter 7, 17). I connected with Augustine when I read this, ruefully laughing at my experience of claiming to want something divine—but not yet! Not until divine intervention came could Augustine face the truth of his reliance on Jesus Christ. In facing this truth, the once staggering sinner became fixed on Christ. From this experience I extract and share with you lesson number one: fearlessly facing truth about ourselves has the potential to transform our hearts from sinner to saint. Expand Our Secular Knowledge Our second story is a personal favorite of mine about an unsung scientific hero. Biologist Alfred Wallace was a contemporary of Charles Darwin who collected fossils around the world and had a special

Where Your Heart Is

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Marcia and I are so delighted to be here with you today at this commencement celebration. From the bottom of our hearts, we congratulate all of you on this wonderful accomplishment in your life. It is no small thing to meet all the requirements for graduation and to make it to this place today. You should acknowledge your parents, spouses, siblings, children, and friends who have supported you during this quest for education. My hope is that this day will be a day of celebration, a day of gratitude, and a day when your thoughts will be focused on the wonderful future that lies ahead of you. Marcia and I love BYU. We met here on this campus. We both graduated from BYU, and our children were tormented every morning as they were awakened by their father singing, “Rise and shout, the Cougars are out!” Every time Marcia and I come to this campus, we reflect on the beginning of our time together. All six of our children graduated from BYU, so the Nielsons are true-blue Cougars. A Gateway to Your Unknown Future When I received this assignment to speak to you today, my very first thought was that I graduated from BYU in 1978, exactly forty years ago. My thoughts were drawn to that day of graduation. For me to introduce to you the encouragement and hope that I have for your future, I have to tell you what I was thinking forty years ago as I sat in your seat. My graduation was not a joyous occasion for me. During my last semester at BYU, I had received a phone call from my father telling me that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In spite of wonderful doctors and many priesthood blessings, my father’s health continued to deteriorate. Although he promised that he would be at my graduation, his condition was so precarious that when the day finally arrived, my mother traveled to Provo alone to be with me at my graduation. My father and I had a very close relationship. I was preparing to go to law school. My father was a lawyer and had been my mentor, my counselor, and my advisor. As I sat here in the Marriott Center on graduation day, I knew that my father had only a few weeks to live. I was also graduating as a single person, having hoped that during my time at BYU I could be married. Fortunately, my wife and I had already found each other, and I was hoping on graduation day that she would continue to be willing to marry me. My heart on that day was full of uncertainty, sadness, and a little bit of fear. Just two weeks after my graduation—as predicted by my father’s doctors—my father passed away. My plans for law school were then dictated by my desire to remain close to my mother, as I turned down admission to a law school I had hoped to attend in Washington, DC. I apologize for sharing that experience with you on this joyous occasion. It is not my intent to take the joy and happiness out of our celebration today. Rather, my hope is that I can share with you what I wi

Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve

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There are many iconic symbols here on campus that help graduates remember—hopefully with fondness—their time at BYU. For many it is the Y on the mountain. For some it is the cougar statue at the LaVell Edwards Stadium. For others it is a particular building. Who knows, with enough time and perspective, even the Testing Center may bring warm memories. Maybe not. For many, the symbol they will remember the most is the sign at the southwest entrance to campus: Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve. This seven-word injunction has been the topic of numerous campus devotionals,1 professorial admonitions, and, most especially, commencement and convocation addresses.2 Anyone who has attended many graduation ceremonies at BYU has surely heard at least one talk on the topic. So with full understanding that I am not being original, I would like to focus on this saying one more time in a graduation setting because I believe that, notwithstanding the constant repetition, we may still underestimate the depth of its importance and meaning. A Connection Between Joy and Service First, a bit of history and context. The Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve sign was erected on campus in 1965 as part of an effort to spruce up the west entrance to campus. Judging by press coverage at the time, the most exciting feature of the redesign was not the sign or the sign on the other side of the street but the addition of an information center just to the east of the sign on the south side of the road. Touting this new addition, the Daily Universe proclaimed with seeming excitement that the small building contained heating for year-round use, a sliding window, and—wonder of wonders—a telephone that student employees would use to call ahead to those expecting the visitors.3 Times have changed a bit. The Information Center has been demolished, telephone and all. The sign has endured. When plans for the new entrance were being considered, “the university invited faculty members, and others, to submit a slogan or motto which would be suitable to be placed at the main entrance.”4 The suggestion to use Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve was submitted by Stewart L. Grow, a professor of history and political science at the university. In his autobiography, Professor Grow explained why he had submitted that slogan: Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve is . . . a distillation of my life’s philosophy. We are born to gain experience in learning and have both the obligation and the reward of serving. . . . I know of no better way to expand the joy which man should have than to create a world in which all men will be motivated to learn and to serve each other.5 Thus, from the very outset of its existence at BYU, the injunction to “enter to learn; go forth to serve” has reflected a profoun

Hard Sayings and Safe Spaces: Making Room for Struggle as Well as Faith

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Jesus ended His pivotal and heavily symbolic discourse on the Bread of Life by declaring: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. . . .  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. [John 6:53, 56] The crowds who had followed Jesus since His miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the Jewish religious authorities who opposed Him were not the only ones who failed to understand His meaning. Even many of His own disciples exclaimed: This is an hard saying; who can hear it? . . . From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. [John 6:60, 66] Somewhat plaintively, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67). In response, Peter asked: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. [John 6:68–69]1 The expression a “hard saying” has become a trope for any doctrine or practice that is difficult to understand, accept, or follow.2 Over the past few years, when I have asked my students what are hard sayings for them, although they have mentioned faith issues and apparent historical problems, they have increasingly spoken about life’s challenges—challenges that seem to call into question God’s love for them or struggles that they often feel they must endure alone, without the love and understanding of their fellow Saints. Such hard sayings include gender disparities, sexual and other identities, and racial and ethnic discrimination. In addition, they include a challenge that is common to almost all of us—the pain of loss and disappointment, whether that comes from the death of a loved one; poor physical, mental, or emotional health; or lost dreams. These are challenges that do not go away easily. Rather, often they are struggles that we must deal with throughout our lives. While ideally we would all, with Peter, simply respond with seemingly immediate faith, the reality is as Moroni taught: “[We] receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether 12:6). Just as Jacob wrestled with an angel till dawn (see Genesis 32:24–29) and Enos wrestled all night before the Lord (see Enos 1:2–6), for many of us the trial of our faith often includes long—sometimes lifelong—struggles. I submit that these struggles are necessary to our progression, but they are not struggles that we should ever face alone. While it is true that Jesus Christ and His Atonement provide us strength, healing, and salvation, in this life He often succors and blesses us through others. Employing the image of the Church as “the body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12:27, Quaker missionary Sarah Elizabeth Rownt

Seeing the Divinity in Others

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When our children were teenagers, whenever they would leave our home, my husband or I would usually say to them, “Remember who you are.” If you asked them what that means, they would probably say a couple of things. First, it means that they are a Wadsworth and that there are certain behaviors and responsibilities that come with that. But, more important, I hope that they would say it means they are children of God. We knew that each time we sent them out the door, they would be faced with all kinds of decisions—some that were very difficult—and we wanted to make sure they were armed with the knowledge of their divinity. I believe that knowing of our divinity changes the way we view ourselves and influences our daily decision-making. President Boyd K. Packer shared the following: You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!1 I love the counsel to “fix that truth in your mind and hold to it.” We need to be unwavering in our belief in our individual divinity. As President Packer described, we each have “a single line” that leads directly back to our Heavenly Father. The power of that single line can be accessed through prayer, scripture reading, and church and temple attendance. Each of these seemingly simple steps are vital to seeking and receiving access to inspiration and revelation from our Heavenly Father. These are the steps of “holding fast to the rod,” as illustrated in Lehi’s dream.2 And, just as promised, these steps will provide access to our own personal revelation and will “safely guide us through.”3 In Doctrine and Covenants 112:10 we are told, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” I know without a doubt that He will answer your prayers when you are making decisions about things like marriage, raising children, and a career. He will even answer seemingly simple prayers. Prayer is the opportunity to ask for and receive guidance; it is an essential part of our ­relationship with our Heavenly Father. As we come to know and understand what it means to be a child of God, we also must come to know that everyone else on this earth is a child of God. Look around you. You are surrounded by children of God. Every single person on the earth now and forever is a child of God. It doesn’t matter what their religious or political affiliation is, it doesn’t matter where they come from or the color of their skin, and it doesn’t matter if they are just like you or are vastly different from you—they are all children of our Heavenly F

“Thy Troubles to Bless”

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Dark clouds filled the Provo sky on April 15, 2003. It was the due date for our second daughter, but there were still no signs of imminent delivery. My wife, Christine, was concerned that she had not felt the baby move for a day or so. She felt urgently that we needed to go to the hospital for a test. I thought she was overly cautious, but we went. I remember our cheerful nurse that morning, chatting away as she hooked Christine up to monitors and quickly found a heartbeat. All was well. With the monitor running, the nurse left the three of us—Christine, one-year-old Lizzy, and me—chatting pleasantly in the room. Suddenly something changed. The reassuring, regular beep of the heart monitor stopped. We called for the cheerful nurse, who assured us that this happens—babies move or monitors slip. It would just take a second to find the heartbeat. I remember the nurse’s face as she searched for the heartbeat, her smile fading, her eyes becoming serious. Still searching. She called for another nurse to try. No, she couldn’t find it either. Oh, there it was. Wait—no, that was Christine’s heartbeat. And then there was a sudden rush of nurses into the room. There were calls for doctors and hurried explanations. I sat in the corner, holding Lizzy on my lap, watching with a growing, helpless dread. Emergency C-section, they said, and they rushed out the door with my wife. Lizzy and I retreated to the hallway where, in a few minutes, a cart sped by with a too-white, too-still, too-quiet baby on it. Was that our baby? It wasn’t clear. In a room behind glass windows, doctors painstakingly inserted an IV through the tiny umbilical cord. Yes, I was told, that is your baby—not breathing, faint heartbeat, lost a lot of blood. Mother is fine. The baby—Caroline, we would call her—was placed on a gurney and prepped for a helicopter ride to Primary Children’s Medical Center. My father had arrived. We slipped our hands beneath the plastic shield that covered my little girl and placed them on her tiny head with its dark, wispy hair. In the name of Jesus Christ and by His priesthood, I blessed her with a strong heart and lungs; I blessed her with a full recovery. Then Caroline was whisked out the door to the waiting helicopter, Lizzy went home with my parents, Christine stayed at the hospital to recover, and I drove to Salt Lake City, chasing the helicopter. I felt the sudden fragmentation of our family—each of my girls now in someone else’s care and me driving alone through the rain. Over the next hours and days there were a lot of tests and questions, a lot of indefinite answers and tearful conversations. Family members, friends, and ward members joined their faith with ours in earnest fasting and prayer. Gratefully, Caroline lived. In some ways the blessing I pronounced that day was fulfilled directly. She has a healthy heart and strong lungs. She did not, however, fu

Finding Your Place in the Universe

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Years ago my husband bought me a cute little plaque that says, “If it weren’t for the last minute, I would never get anything done.” I am sure we can all relate. In our hurried and rushed lives, we often focus too much on the things that have deadlines, and we fail to make time for the things that matter most. We forget who we really are, and we lose sight of the eternal. We fail to take the time to pray, to ponder, to seek personal revelation, to follow the promptings of the Spirit, to recognize God’s hand in our lives, and to feel His love. With eyes cast down and focused on the task at hand, we forget to look up. Today I want to remind all of us to take the time to look up. All Things Bear Record of God I am an astronomer, and I have always been fascinated with space. One of my earliest memories involves being at a school book fair when I was five or six years old and picking up a picture book containing photographs of Jupiter and its moons. The Voyager spacecraft had just arrived at Jupiter and had returned the most stunning images of the four Galilean moons. I can still remember pictures of the moon Io in this book, with its volcanoes and intense orange and yellow colors. This little moon, just slightly larger than Earth’s moon, should have been geologically dead—a gray, cratered world similar to our own moon. Instead it presented a beautiful, chaotic, changing landscape that absolutely intrigued me as a child. I was hooked. As an astronomer, I often wonder why God created objects like the moon Io? If you really think about it, there is no reason for our solar system to consist of anything more than a sun, a moon, and an earth. So why put eight planets around the sun instead of one? Why create exotic moons like Io around giant planets? Why create Pluto and his friends in the Kuiper belt? When I first saw pictures of Pluto and the heart-shaped region we call the Tombaugh Regio, I couldn’t help but wonder if God had intentionally created this geological feature in the shape of a heart on Pluto—a feature that would just happen to be in the right location for us to see as the New Horizons spacecraft flew by during a four-hour window on July 14, 2015. Did God put that feature on Pluto billions of years ago, knowing we would never see it until these last days, to remind us of His love and to remind us that He is aware of us? I don’t know, but maybe. As I have studied God’s creations in the heavens, I have come to believe that all of God’s creations serve a purpose and exist for a reason. When Moses asked God to tell him “why these things are so,” God’s response was, “For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me” (Moses 1:30–31). We may not know the whys of all of God’s creations, but each of God’s vast creations is a rem

Keeping the Spiritual Lifeblood Flowing

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Brothers and sisters, not too many years ago, as an undergraduate student at BYU, I was attending these devotionals with a wonderful young lady I had met in a BYU student ward. Through some investigation, I learned that on certain days, when I was finishing a physics class in the Eyring Science Center, this young lady was also finishing a class in the Spencer W. Kimball Tower. I was careful to make sure that each week we would “coincidentally” meet on the sidewalk of the intersection of these two buildings so we could attend devotionals together or walk to the Wilkinson Center to have lunch. This young lady and I have now been married for thirty-three years. My wife, Joyce, and I are happy to be here today and to share this brief time with you. I hope that what I say today might be meaningful and uplifting, and I appreciate the prayer and music, which have invited the Spirit to be with us. Quickening Our Pace When I was first considering what topic I might address for this devotional, I was walking home from the priesthood session of our last general conference reflecting on my impressions of our new prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. Everything—from the way President Nelson approached the stand to the manner and tone in which he delivered his messages to the new directions that were presented regarding priesthood quorums and, later, the reemphasis on ministering in the Savior’s way—caused me to reflect on my service in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I determined that in order to keep up in terms of the gospel, I was going to need to roll up my sleeves and rededicate myself to the work—early retirement didn’t seem to be an option. Indeed, if I needed to “lengthen my stride” to accept President Spencer W. Kimball’s challenge as a young man in the 1970s, I would now need to “quicken my pace” to be able to follow President Nelson’s counsel as an adult. President Nelson’s comment during the Sunday morning session of the April 2018 general conference was especially poignant to me: In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.1 Surviving spiritually and having the constant influence of the Holy Ghost are the two main topics I would like to emphasize in the remaining time we have together. Getting Off the Horse to Walk To introduce my talk and to provide a context for our discussion today, I would like to tell you a story from when I was ten or eleven years old. I was raised on a cattle ranch in northwestern Wyoming, in an area that is referred to as the Big Horn Basin, between the communities of Cody and Thermopolis. Each spring on the ranch, after the baby calves were born, we would round up our cattle and take them to a pasture area in the mountains behind my grandfather’s place. In this particular year we had alrea

Faith to Do His Will

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I would like for us to go on a journey together. The journey I am going to ask you to take, however, won’t be a vacation. In fact, it will likely be a little painful. You see, for you to go on this journey, I need you to reflect upon a moment in your life when you were surviving a trial—a painful, discouraging trial wherein you experienced intense suffering. I need you to go back to how you felt in the midst of the darkness, the loneliness, and the anger, back to the moment when you felt you could no longer endure the heartache. It is this state of suffering that I would like to focus on today. Our mortal life can be compared to a long journey. Sometimes the journey is easy for a time: the path is smooth, the warmth of the sun is comforting, and the light breeze is refreshing. Other times—what seems to be most of the time—the journey is difficult: the terrain is steep, treacherous, and fraught with all manner of obstacles, some of which cause us to trip or stumble on our way. And sometimes the journey requires us to shoulder much more of a burden than we think we can carry. It is during these turbulent and troubling times of life that the journey compels us to descend into a dangerously deep valley—so deep that we are surrounded by numbing cold temperatures, so deep that it seems like we are descending into a bottomless chasm, so deep, in fact, that the unmitigated darkness causes us to question whether or not the sun still exists. It is under these inhospitable conditions that I reverently contemplate Jesus willingly entering the Garden of Gethsemane to suffer for the sins of all mankind. It is difficult to imagine how He felt at that exact moment. We know from Matthew 26 that the Savior earnestly prayed, asking the Father three times if there were another way to accomplish His purpose. Verse 39 reads: And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. The Savior pleaded again in verse 42, saying: O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. In verse 44 the Savior prayed again a third time, “saying the same words.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: The Lord said, in effect, “If there is another path, I would rather walk it. If there is any other way . . . I will gladly embrace it.” . . . But in the end, the cup did not pass.1 “I stand all amazed”2 at the Lord’s response as recorded in Luke 22:42: “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” This means Jesus willingly submitted to the will of the Father in order to fulfill the need for an Atonement. Jesus, in perhaps the greatest example of humility and faith, submitted to the Father’s will, even though it meant He

Recognizing and Understanding the Spirit at BYU

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I. Introduction My family thinks that I am somewhat obsessive about all things BYU. For example, I go to sleep every night on a Y-logoed pillowcase, head out to my car each morning through a door adorned with a large magnetic Y, fly a large Y flag on my front porch on BYU game days, and display numerous BYU-themed posters around our home. These posters generally celebrate historic BYU coaches, athletes, and events, such as BYU’s 1984 national championship in football, the 2006 John Beck to Jonny Harline winning touchdown pass against the University of Utah, and a ­certain BYU basketball national player of the year in 2011 known simply as “the Jimmer” to those who adored him. I love BYU. It is a spectacular place to study and to work. Like many of you, I have a long, varied, and personally rewarding association with BYU: My mother was a freshman at BYU around 1950. At that time BYU had only a few thousand students and was housed in a small collection of buildings mostly clustered on the southwest corner of campus. As you know, BYU was and continues to be a work in progress. My first recollection of BYU was watching its fast-paced 1966 NIT basketball championship team when I was only fourteen years old. Although I am a fifth-generation Mormon and a descendant of nineteenth-century pioneer stock, I was the first member of my extended family to actually graduate from BYU. I later became a “double Cougar” when I graduated with the third class of BYU’s law school. One of my most treasured mementos from the law school is a photograph of Rex E. Lee handing me my law degree diploma in 1978. In my view, Rex was the finest lawyer of his generation. As an undergraduate student at BYU, I met my wonderful wife, Dottie, in a BYU family home evening group. We have been happily married for nearly forty-two years. All of our four children graduated from BYU and married fellow Cougars. We have fourteen grandchildren now—all ­hoping for the day when they might get to “rise and shout”1 as students at this prestigious university. To cap it all off, for nearly thirty years I have had the great privilege of working as an attorney for BYU in the Office of the General Counsel. Some may wonder why BYU needs so many highly capable attorneys and support staff members. I can only tell you that we live in legally perilous times and that the legal professionals at BYU are working hard and effectively behind the scenes to advance and protect BYU and its standards, ­values, and assets. I am really proud of all that this great collegial group has accomplished. II. BYU Is a Special Place For me, being employed at any institution of higher education would be a noble calling. Those of us associated with American higher education get to wake up every workday with an extra­ordinary opportunity to advance the greater good of society. Working t

Revealing Questions

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We are only about two weeks into the beginning of the spring term here on campus. Many of you are current students, and those of you who have completed this period of your life no doubt remember what it is like to walk into a fresh, new classroom. At the beginning of the semester or term, the gap between what you know now and what you need to know to do well in the course is often large—perhaps overwhelming. A university education requires that you learn about many different subjects, some of which will come naturally to you and some of which you will never quite feel confident about. Some subjects will be exciting and engaging and others you will vow never to willingly revisit. Regardless of the subject, you know from the beginning that success will require you to work—usually to work hard. You will have an instructor to guide you in your journey, and she will provide you with things to read, assignments that make you think, and exams that allow you to prove yourself. You may have teaching assistants who can help you, and, of course, you have the assistance of the instructor. Learning in Mortality This model of classroom learning is one that also applies to our mortal life. Elder Robert D. Hales taught, “The purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences.”1 Similarly, the purpose of learning in the classroom is to grow in knowledge, develop skills, and be strengthened in our understanding as we work diligently to acquire new knowledge and abilities. In Abraham 3:25 we read, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” Just as you must eventually submit to examinations or other assessments to prove your learning in a classroom, we must submit to repeated tests and challenges in our earthly life. These trials allow us to prove that we are progressing in our mortal journey, and they may be particularly intense periods of growth. Just as students ramp up their efforts to study when an exam is looming, the experience of a spiritual test can heighten our own efforts to learn from the Lord. To fulfill the purpose of learning and gaining experience, it was essential that, as we were born onto the earth, we passed through a veil. In so doing, we came to earth having forgotten all that had occurred before. This is perhaps one of the most challenging things about our lives. Because we are now restricted by mortal eyes, there is much about the eternal perspective and the purposes and timing of God that we do not understand. In the same way, as we approach a new subject in a classroom, the instructor has a broader perspective, being able to see how all of the material fits together and how it connects to other fields of knowledge in a way we usually cannot see—at least in the beginning. Ignaz Semmelweis The story of Ignaz Semmelweis illustrates