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Commencements

Lessons on Leaving Paradise

It is now my privilege to address the graduates.

This is a joyful, happy time for you graduates, your families, and the whole university as we rejoice and celebrate together.

However, for some graduates, including some I’ve spoken with just this week, the joy of graduation is tinged with nostalgia and apprehension. After all, most of you are facing the prospect of leaving a Hawaiian paradise. Also, you are about to bid farewell to the familiar and somewhat sheltered world of the “ivory tower” to enter an unfamiliar and less sheltered existence in the so-called “real world.” Today some of you may be feeling, in a phrase from a Broadway musical, both “excited and scared.”

Thinking about your situation, I am reminded of Adam and Eve as they leave Paradise to enter the world outside of Eden in John Milton’s sublime epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton depicts Adam and Eve as shedding “some natural tears” as they look back on their garden home, but also as looking forward with hope and joy at the world that lies “all before them,” knowing that, owing to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, life outside Eden has the potential for even greater happiness and growth. This is essentially the way that we in the Church envision Adam and Eve’s exodus from Eden.

So drawing on Church doctrine and a lifetime of studying Milton, may I offer three lessons for you on leaving paradise.

YOU ARE MEANT TO LEAVE EDEN

First lesson: You are meant to leave Eden.

It was never intended for Adam and Eve to stay in Paradise, nor for you to stay in school. Your parents and your university want to see you launched as graduates. This is the plan.

Likewise, God intends for his children to venture forth into a wider world. This is essential to his plan. Why? Because the Lord wants us to grow rather than stagnate in Eden. His plan, unlike Satan’s, is calculated to promote growth rather than merely restrain vice. As Milton says:

God sure[ly] esteems the growth and completing of one virtuous person more than the restraint of ten vicious ( Areopagitica 944-45). [1]

In light of this celestial calculus focusing on growth, he sends his children into a world where there is both agency and “opposition in all things,” knowing that without these “righteousness could not be brought to pass,” nor “happiness.” (2 Ne. 2:11)

This famous teaching by Lehi reminds me of a famous statement by Milton, who says: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue . . . that never sallies out and sees her adversary. . . . [for] that which purifies us is trial and trial is by what is contrary” ( Areopagitica 944-45).

So we as your parents and your alma mater send you graduates sallying forth today, like Adam and Eve, out of paradise into a world of opposition and risk, but also of greater possibilities for growth, service, and joy. This has been the plan from the beginning. It is a plan of happiness, a plan of growth.

YOU ARE MEANT TO EAT FROM THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE

Second lesson: You are meant to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

Many people read the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge. Not Milton. For him, the Fall does not consist in aspiring to know what God knows. It consists in failing to obey God’s prohibition. Milton’s view is perfectly captured by the prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon, who states: “to be learned is good, if they hearken to the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:29).

To be learned is good. God has given us minds capable of reason, inquiry, questioning, learning, imagination, curiosity, wonder, and discovery. These are divine gifts. We honor God, whose glory is intelligence, by loving him with all our minds.

In Milton’s Eden, God encourages Adam and Eve to learn, and he sends angels to educate them. Before the Fall, they learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass.” And after the Fall, they learn of “the wars and perplexities” that would beset “the nations” and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. (See D&C 88:79).

I hope that you have likewise learned of these things here in this educational Eden, and that some of your teachers here have been angelic. I encourage you to continue both to learn and to hearken. For truly “to be learned is good” so long as you “hearken to the counsels of God.”

This is my second lesson for you graduates on leaving paradise—a lesson beautifully articulated by Milton’s Adam just before he leaves Eden. Let me quote from his final words:

Greatly instructed I shall hence depart.
Greatly in peace of thought, and have my fill
Of knowledge. . . .
Henceforth I learn, that to obey is best,
And love with fear the only God, to walk
As in his presence, ever to observe
His providence, and on him sole depend,
. . .
Taught this by his example whom I now
Acknowledge my Redeemer ever blest. [2]

May you, too, leave paradise “greatly instructed,” determined to obey and love God, to walk as in his presence, following his providence [or guidance], with the testimony of Jesus, our “Redeemer ever blest,” on your lips and engraved in your hearts.

YOU CAN TAKE PARADISE WITH YOU

Now the third and final lesson: If you live the gospel, you can take paradise with you.

After Adam utters the speech I just quoted, the angel who will escort him out of Eden responds:

This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of wisdom; hope no higher, though all the stars
Thou knew’st by name
. . . .
only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call'd Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far. [3]

To know the truth is vital. But knowing truth is not enough. You must “add deeds” answerable to your knowledge. And even more than deeds, you must add God-like character traits—such as faith, virtue, patience, temperance, and love—divine attributes that Milton draws from Peter’s description of how we can become “partakers of the divine nature” and make our “calling and election sure.” As you acquire the divine nature, especially God-like charity, you, too, will not be loath to leave this paradise but shall possess a paradise within you happier far.

My dear graduates: I’m sure that you have often heard people say, as I have, on a beautiful day in Hawaii: “well, it’s another day in paradise!” Most of you will soon leave such days in paradise. But, like Adam and Eve, you can take a paradise within you sweeter and happier far if you acquire the divine nature, and above all charity, the pure love of Christ—“the soul” of all other godly virtues.

Here in Hawaii, you have learned another name for charity. It’s called “aloha.” I hope and pray that you will take a spirit of aloha with you wherever you go. Then you, too, will possess a paradise within you far happier and more enduring than what any a garden island can provide. And by incorporating in your soul the spirit of aloha, or pure love of Christ, you will make the world more paradisal wherever you go.

BENEDICTION

Now, in conclusion, let me quote the final lines of Paradise Lost and offer my benediction upon you. The poem ends with Adam and Eve looking back wistfully on Eden and forward hopefully on a world that lies before them:

Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way. [4]

May you, too, take Providence as your guide as you leave paradise for a world that lies all before you, full of new possibilities for where and how to live and choose new places of rest.

[1] The Complete Poetry and essential Pose of John Milton, N.Y. Modern Library 2007.
[2] PL 12. 557-59, 561-64, 572-73.
[3] PL 12. 575-77, 581-87.
[4] PL 12 645-49.