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Commencements

Courage and Compassion


My Dear Graduates:

Aloha! Susan and I are so glad to be with you for your graduation, even if only virtually. How we wish we could be together in person but this is just going to have to do.

As I envision you in my mind’s eye, my heart reaches out to each of you wherever you are across this vast world. You come from 24 countries and 25 states. You range in age from 20 to 67. And I congratulate each of you, but especially our 67 year-old graduate. You set an inspiring example of life-long learning and demonstrate why this is called a commencement rather than a conclusion of your education.

Brigham Young said:

“We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion.”

He goes on to say,

“never, never. . . . We shall never cease to learn, unless we apostatize from the religion of Jesus Christ." (JD 3:203)

May you graduates “never cease to learn,” just like our 67 year-old graduate, so that this day becomes a milepost, not the end point, of a life-long educational journey.

Now today, I wish to speak to you very briefly today about two qualities you that will need on this journey: courage and compassion.

First courage. You are facing daunting challenges in this time of pandemic and global economic depression. As I have thought about you and what to say to you, I have felt impressed to repeat the stirring charge Moses gave Joshua and the Children of Israel as they were about to leave him and face enemies across the River Jordan. Moses said:

“Be strong and of good courage . . . for the Lord thy God . . . will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

I echo this admonition to you!

Today’s world could easily cause you to fear and lose heart. But do not take counsel from your fears. Rather, take heart—which is where the word “courage” comes from: Corage is Old French for “heart.” So, meet the future with “corage,” or good heart and courage and its near kin, faith.

You are not the first generation to face daunting trials and uncertainty. These have been the common lot for most people in most ages. Yet the Lord has always been with his people in their trials, and He will be with you in yours.

So, take courage from how he has blessed not only others in ages past but you personally. Remember the times that he has blessed you. Susan and I often encourage each other with these lines from “Be Still My Soul”:

"Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past."

He will guide your future as he has your past. He will not fail or forsake you.

In addition to exercising this kind of courage, which is akin to faith, you will need another kind of courage on your journey. It is called moral courage, or the courage of your convictions.

Such courage constitutes a special kind of virtue: one that must be exercised when any other virtue is tested. I like what C. S. Lewis said. He said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” This also reminds me of what Maya Angelou, an American writer said. She said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Now, let me illustrate this just briefly. To be truly honest you must have courage—courage to be truthful when it is difficult and even dangerous. At the testing point, honesty requires courage. Similarly, to be truly chaste you must have the courage to resist temptation, like Joseph of Egypt, who “got him out” when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39:12). So, chastity, too, requires courage at the testing point. And so do all the virtues. Courage is the form of every virtue at the testing point.

You will need such moral courage if you are to become “genuine gold” leaders, as David O. McKay envisioned. Such leaders cannot be bought or sold because they have the courage of their convictions.

So, my dear graduates, be strong and of good courage. Develop the courage that is akin to faith by trusting that the Lord will not fail nor forsake you in your trials. Also develop the courage of your convictions by doing what is right even when the going gets tough. For without moral courage, convictions become merely good intentions written on water. Write them instead deep in the fleshy tables of your hearts! (See 2 Corinthians 3:3)

Compassion

So, I also want to counsel you to be compassionate. A leader who has courage without compassion may be feared and even admired but not loved. The world needs leaders who are full of fellow-feeling for others; who possess not only courage but compassion and empathy.

I like the root meaning of these two words. “Empathy” comes from the Greek empatheia: which combines en (in) with pathos (feel). Empathetic people are able to get inside others and feel what they feel.

“Compassion” comes from the Latin com (with) and pati / passio (suffer). Compassion literally means to suffer with another. This is exactly, of course, what the Savior did for us. And it’s one reason we love him so much. Note how often the scriptures say that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” Whenever I read this phrase, I am moved.

If we would follow Jesus Christ we, too, must learn to be moved with compassion. I hope that your time at BYU–Hawaii has strengthened your empathy—or your ability to feel for others, including those unlike yourself—and to have compassion, or fellow-feelings, for those who suffer.

Now, as an old English teacher, when I think of compassion by suffering with others, I think of Shakespeare’s King Lear. He begins the play as an utterly selfish, narcissistic leader. But eventually he learns “to feel what wretches feel” (3.3.34). He first gets outside of himself in a terrible storm. We see this when he turns to his fool and says, “How dost, my boy? Art cold? I am cold myself” (3.2.68-69). It’s a simple moment but a monumental change for King Lear. It’s the first time that Lear recognizes that someone else’s suffering might be just as real as his own. And, Lear’s new sense of empathy leads him to pray for all those “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are / That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm” (3.3.28-29). After that prayer, Lear goes out and suffers more and through what he suffers Lear is driven mad, but he also grows in compassion, as do all the good characters in the play. They become “pregnant to good pity” by the things they suffer (4.6.219).

So, may we learn and practice courage and compassion. These virtues will help us become more like Christ—which is, as John Milton says, the ultimate purpose of education. The “end” of learning, Milton writes, is “to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to become like him” (Of Education). May your education help you to become like Christ in courage and in compassion.

I pray as I wish you well on your journey. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.