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The Most Precious of All Possessions: Good Character

BYU-Hawaii Commencement (April 21, 2018) - Mark B. Woodruff

Brothers and sisters, aloha. I am pleased to be here today representing the Church commissioner of education at these commencement exercises. Congratulations to each of you graduates for achieving this important milestone.

You have many wonderful opportunities awaiting you throughout your life. As you remember the important things you have learned while studying at BYU–Hawaii, you will have the critical tools necessary to help you confront the challenges that will surely cross your path. More importantly, you will have essential resources to help you deal with those challenges in a way that will foster your spiritual and moral development. You will be better prepared to make decisions that are in accordance with our Heavenly Father’s will.

You have learned much from your professors and fellow students during the years you have studied at BYU–Hawaii. Some of the most important principles you should have learned that will bless your life in a lasting and even eternal way have to do with your moral character and how it was molded and shaped during the time you spent on this beautiful campus.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Character is higher than intellect. . . . A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.”1 Education helps you think well, but, more importantly, education helps you live well as you understand that character development is a loftier goal than is the pursuit of intellectual prowess.

President David O. McKay, who played a critical role in the development of this university, gave an address at the dedication of the Church College of Hawaii, the predecessor school of BYU–Hawaii. In remarks that he offered on December 17, 1958, he quoted praise given to Karl G. Maeser from one of his former students, U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland:

[Karl G. Maeser]  believed that scholastic attainments were better than riches, but that better than either were faith, love, charity, clean living, clean thinking, loyalty, tolerance and all the other attributes that combine to constitute that most precious of all possessions, good character.2

Let me repeat—Karl G. Maeser believed that the most precious of all possessions is good character. Do you really believe that good character is the most precious of all your possessions?

You might think of moral character as being mostly synonymous with integrity or honesty, which it is, in great measure. But, as was noted earlier, character is made up of many Christlike attributes that help to develop us into the types of people our Heavenly Father desires us to be. Among the many worthwhile attributes that can develop our character, the attribute of humility is foundational if we truly aspire to become men and women of Jesus Christ.

President David O. McKay was a great example of one who lived his life with humility, which contributed to his excellence of moral character.

Not long before his death, President McKay spoke at a meeting in the Salt Lake Temple with the General Authorities of the Church. Elder Boyd K. Packer, who was present at that meeting, recalled the experience as follows:

[President McKay]  talked of the temple ordinances. . . . After he had spoken for some time, he paused and stood gazing up to the ceiling in deep thought.

. . . He stood gazing as people sometimes do when pondering a deep question. Then he spoke: “Brethren, I think I am finally beginning to understand.”

Here he was, the prophet—an Apostle for over half a century and even then he was learning, he was growing. His expression “I think I am finally beginning to understand” was greatly comforting to me.3

Even with his extensive understanding of the gospel and experience in the Church, President McKay was humble and realized that he could still learn and discover deeper levels of spiritual meaning.

Among the many other attributes of those who possess high moral character is the ability to share beliefs and testimony regarding spiritual matters with boldness and without fear.

My wife’s cousin Linda was a great example of this attribute. She was born with Down syndrome, which was both a challenge and a blessing in her life. She never shied away from doing the right thing, regardless of what others thought of her decision. One such situation was when she determined she wanted to be endowed, even though her parents were not active in the Church. I quote from her journal:

As I sat in stake conference, . . . my thoughts went to the time when I made the decision to go through the temple for myself and that this is the time. So I started a temple class, which has been outstanding. I have enjoyed it very much. And when coming home I would be so spiritual from what I have learned that I started to share with my parents what I was taught. It was beautiful. One day after church my parents told me something that I thought I would not hear for a long time. That they themselves are preparing to go through the temple and be sealed as a family. I could not believe it. Is this not a miracle?4

It was, indeed, a miracle, which was due to her fearless determination she had to share her spiritual promptings with her parents. Linda and her parents have all since passed away. Happily, she was sealed to her parents in May 1989.

Our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, is a man who exhibits the highest degree of character traits. He has lived his life striving to better himself and do the things that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has asked him to do. One such example occurred when he was called to be president of the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake.

At the time that the stake presidency was to be reorganized, President Nelson was a busy father and successful heart surgeon. When the call was extended to him to be stake president, the presiding authority at the conference, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, said, “If you feel that you are too busy and should not accept the call, then that is your privilege.”

The response from President Nelson indicates the sound character he possesses when he said, “The Lord has been so good to us, and there is nothing we desire more than to serve where He wants us to serve, in whatever capacity we are called to serve.”5

His commitment to do what the Lord wants him to do, in accordance with the Lord’s needs and not his own, is an example for each of you graduates as you go forth to serve your Father in Heaven, your families, and your communities.

As alumni of BYU–Hawaii, I hope that you might realize that good character is truly the most precious of all your possessions, and I pray that you will act in such a way so as to manifest Christ-like character traits throughout your life.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar,” speech delivered to the Harvard chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 31 August 1837.

2. George Sutherland, writing about his former professor Karl G. Maeser in “A Message to the 1941 Graduating Class of Brigham Young University from Mr. Justice George Sutherland,” 4 June 1941, 2, 10; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU; quoted by David O. McKay in “Church College of Hawaii Dedicatory Address and Prayer,”  Something Wonderful: Brigham Young University–Hawaii Foundational Speeches (Laie, Hawaii: BYU–Hawaii, 2012), 19.

3. Boyd K. Packer,  The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 263; quoted in  Teachings of Presidents: David O. McKay, xxviii.

4. Linda Packard journal, in the possession of Peggy Woodruff.

5. Spencer J. Condie,  Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 144–45.