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Education: The Lord's Standard

Brothers and Sisters, aloha! It is wonderful to welcome you to new semester here on the BYU–Hawaii campus. For some of you this may be the start of a whole new chapter in your life—filled with excitement and apprehension as you get to know new roommates, a new ward, new teachers, a new school, and perhaps even a new country. Hopefully, you are quickly getting comfortable in your new surroundings. As one of my grandchildren told me excitedly, as only a five year old could after his first week of school, “Grandpa, I think I’m really going to like my school. My teacher is Mrs. Smith. She is really nice. I think she must be related to Joseph Smith.” Your teachers may not be related to Joseph Smith, but I can assure you that they are committed to helping you gain all the education you can while on this campus.

For others of you, there may be a great sense of anticipation as you near the end of your studies at BYU–Hawaii. Some of you may be looking forward to commencement later this year and the start of a career. In the activities associated with this chapter of your life, you will also find wonderful assistance and concern among those on our staff who are committed to helping you in your search for the right organization and job to launch that career.

And for faculty and staff, this is a time of getting to know new students, helping them develop a solid foundation for the things they will learn under your guidance – whether as a student or as a part-time employee. Whatever your circumstance, I hope you will feel the same sense of excitement, energy, and anticipation that I feel as you contemplate the coming semester on this beautiful campus.

I am indeed grateful to be in this very special place, on this unique and wonderful campus at this special time in each of our lives. As we are reminded each time we come onto this campus, we “enter to learn” so that we will be prepared to “go forth to serve”. Hopefully, the education gained while on this campus, will give you both the preparation and desire needed to go forth to serve. I’d like to focus my remarks today on some of the key aspects of the education you can gain at BYU–Hawaii.

I’d like to begin by considering the counsel and guidance a loving Father in Heaven has provided through His prophets concerning the importance of education in each of our lives. Then I’d like to explore the Lord’s pattern for how we can best learn and gain an education, and what we must do to conform our personal approach to that standard. Finally, I’d like to close with a few basic suggestions as to how we might more effectively pursue and attain that standard.

Lord’s Counsel and Guidance concerning Our Education
Our loving Father in Heaven has revealed through His prophets that gaining an education, especially when combined with righteous obedience, is not only desirable, but is a commandment. Through the prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord decreed:

“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand: “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; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms – And then He told the prophet Joseph why we should do so, “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.” (D&C 88: 78-80)

Hopefully, one of the things that will motivate you to work hard in your learning here on campus is knowing that you have a specific mission to fulfill on earth, and that your education is critical to accomplishing that mission. Even if you don't yet know the specifics of that mission, gaining an education will give you the tools needed to pursue and eventually accomplish it.

President Hinckley, who spoke often about the Lord’s command that we gain all the education we can, said that, “[We] belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. [We] have a mandate from the Lord to educate [our] minds and [our] hearts and [our] hands.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, New Era, September 2007, “Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning”)

And it’s for just that purpose that the Church has established its three campuses of the BYU system. President Hinckley once acknowledged that one of the most effective learning environments ever established both for accumulating knowledge as well as disseminating it, is a university. He went on to say,

“We … shall keep these [BYU campuses] as flagships testifying to the great and earnest commitment of this Church to education, both ecclesiastical and secular, and while doing so, prove to the world that excellent secular learning can be gained in an environment of religious faith” (President Hinckley, Ensign, November 1999, “Why We Do Some of the Things We Do”)

I am personally grateful to have been raised in a home where education was highly valued and encouraged. One of the great blessings that came as a result of that was that by the time I entered high school, I had developed a great love of learning and an appreciation for the excitement that accompanied the discovery of new knowledge—at least of knowledge that was new to me. And I had come to know the power of true principles when applied in a manner consistent with the Lord’s will. As a result, college for me was a time of never ending discovery which motivated a personal desire for even greater understanding and insight. That sense of excitement and enthusiasm for new learning and discovery has stuck with me. I hope each of you are or soon will begin to experience that same level of enthusiasm for learning as you progress in your activities on this campus.

The Means by which the Lord Expects us to Learn
Understanding the importance of education in the Lord’s Plan for His children leads naturally to a consideration of the means by which He would have us obtain such an education. That is, the pattern He would have us follow in our learning. In today’s world, we often hear about different ways we can learn: one such method is by diligent individual study (such as might be done by studying a book on our own or investigating a new topic using the internet); Another would be in a classroom with a gifted and inspiring teacher; Still another might involve designing and conducting a scientific experiment as might be done in a lab; And, still one more would be by personal trial and error or by personal experience.

One of the great blessings of being a member of the restored church is that through the Lord’s prophets we have been taught how a loving Father would have us learn. In a CES fireside, Elder David A. Bednar explained:

“Learning by faith and from experience are two of the central features of the Father’s plan of happiness. The Savior preserved moral agency through the Atonement and made it possible for us to act and to learn by faith. Lucifer’s rebellion against the plan sought to destroy the agency of man, and his intent was that we as learners would only be acted upon.” (David A Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith”, Liahona, September 2007)

Elder Bednar highlights both “learning by experience” and “learning by faith”. We all know what it means to learn by experience. I’m sure we’ve each had situations where what we learned by experience was both surprising and impactful. For me, learning to swim was just such an experience. When I was approaching my twelfth birthday, my mom decided that I needed to learn to swim, since my dad was the Scoutmaster and I would obviously need that skill to become an Eagle Scout. She enrolled me in a swimming class in the community.

I still remember my nervousness when she dropped me off for my first class. The teacher, a rather gruff track coach, lined us all up at the deep end of the pool and then walked along behind us, pushing us in one by one. I thought I was going to drown that night. I was angry and frustrated but also frightened, and intent on quitting the class. But my mother didn’t believe in quitting, and so I returned. Eventually, I became good enough to make the high school swim team and then, through continued experience, practice and learning, I made the University swim team. Later on, I became a swimming instructor at a Scout Camp and taught each of my five children how to swim. Even now, what I learned by experience about swimming allows me to enjoy exercising several mornings a week in our campus pool.

Another opportunity to learn by experience did not turn out quite as well. From about age ten until about age twelve, my mother had me enrolled in weekly piano lessons. Like many kids that age, I would much rather have been out playing instead of practicing the piano each day. As a result, I tended to complain often about how much I wasn’t cut out for the piano. Finally, one day in exasperation, my mother said that if I would take piano until my 12th birthday, it could then be my decision as to whether I continued or not. Because I’d spent so much time complaining, I did quit piano when I turned twelve. I still recall feeling bad about that decision because I was starting to enjoy the piano. But I felt like I’d already set the course to leave piano and didn’t have the courage to reverse my decision. That was the end of my piano learning.

I’m sure each of you can reflect on a range of situations – both positive and negative - where you have learned by experience. As Elder Bednar pointed out, such learning is part of the plan of happiness. But let’s now turn our focus to the other primary means the Lord has given us to assist our learning – that of learning by faith. What does it mean to “learn by faith”? Elder Bednar explained:

“Learning by faith is the result of the Holy Ghost carrying the power of the word of God both unto and into the heart. Learning by faith cannot be transferred from an instructor to a student through a lecture, a demonstration, or an experiential exercise; rather, a student must exercise faith and act in order to obtain the knowledge for himself or herself.” (David A. Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” Ensign, Sep 2007, 60–68)

As pointed out, learning by faith requires that we exercise faith and then act in order to obtain new knowledge. The benefits of following such a process are fundamental to gaining spiritual knowledge. For example, when any of us learn a new gospel principle, one of the ways we gain a firm testimony or conviction of that truth is by living it—that is, acting in faith—and then having the Holy Ghost confirm for us that indeed that principle is true.

Many of you are converts to the church or have served missions and know that the essence of gaining a testimony as an investigator is to act in faith and then feel the confirming Spirit of the Holy Ghost. This process works whether gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, a testimony of the Lord’s living prophet, or a testimony of the Savior and His Atonement. When we act in faith by living righteously and taking a step forward, we demonstrate our faith and the Spirit confirms for us the truth of that principle.

The Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith: “He that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth; Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:21-22).

Furthermore, the Lord has said that when we are righteous and act in faith, He will teach us in our “minds” and in our “hearts” through the power of the Holy Ghost (D&C 8:2).

Unfortunately, for many who have gained a personal conviction of the power of learning by faith in spiritual matters, they have yet to gain a similar conviction that the same process works equally well for secular learning. But I testify that it does. When we desire to learn, there is no better way to do so than by following this same pattern of learning by faith.

When I returned to the university following my mission to Scotland, I made a firm resolve that I would never take an exam, write a paper, or prepare a presentation without asking for the Lord’s help in that endeavor. And I can report today that making my scholarly activities consistently a matter of diligent and faithful prayer has made all the difference. I would invite each of you—if you have not already done so—to make a similar resolve. Resolve that you will live worthy to ask and receive the Lord’s blessings in all of your learning endeavors, and then put that pattern into practice immediately.

In my own case, I also discovered that some challenges in my learning required more than simply doing my homework and then asking the Lord’s help. This was brought into sharp focus as I struggled to master statistics and probability. During my final year of college, I made plans to go to graduate school, and though I was majoring in mathematics, I had never taken a course in statistics and probabilities. But I knew that as a PhD student I would be expected to become accomplished at using the tools of statistics and probabilities as part of my training as a researcher. Thus, during my final semester as an undergraduate, I took a course on statistics and probabilities. I did well in the course because I knew math and knew how to memorize, but frankly, I didn’t understand it.

In my first two years of graduate school I took three more-advanced courses in statistics and probabilities. By that third course I knew I was in trouble—I still didn’t fully understand the concepts and principles, although I knew the formulas and the definitions. It was at that point I decided that I really needed extra help and that I needed to make my learning in that area a matter of fasting and prayer, not just prayer. I’m happy to report that within a couple of weeks, the fog lifted, and with the Lord’s help, I did gain a deep understanding of statistics and probability.

Through the scriptures, we learn that the Holy Ghost can not only enlighten us with understanding, but he can enhance and enrich our learning in many other ways as well: he can embed truth in our hearts; he can bring things to our remembrance; he can give us the words to speak when we need them; and, he can help us discern what is true and what is not. Such is the power of developing our ability to learn by faith.

And that learning is not just limited to the learning of spiritual truths and academic truths; it can also guide us in learning about any topic worthy of our consideration. As I look back on my decision as to which career I should pursue, it too was guided by the application of the Lord’s pattern of “learning by faith”.

In my case, discovering and refining the pursuit of a specific career took years to clarify, not weeks or months. As an undergraduate, I knew that I loved mathematics and science. Then as a missionary, I gained a great love of teaching and of helping others to learn in ways that could profoundly bless their lives. Thus, as a senior in college, I decided with the Lord’s help that I should pursue a Masters degree and a PhD in a graduate school of business.

While a Ph.D. student, I had many wonderful teachers, but among the most inspiring were two young professors, one of whom was Henry B. Eyring, now a member of the First Presidency. Their examples and assistance with my dissertation helped me select the career of teaching in a business school upon graduation. But I was still undecided on which of two disciplines to pursue in my teaching and research. Again with the Lord’s help, I concluded that for me, technology and operations was where I would be the happiest and could make the most meaningful contributions. Thus while there was clearly a process of convergence to what was to be the focus of my career for the next 35 years or so, that convergence took place over the span of five years and was repeatedly assisted by applying the pattern of “learning by faith”.

Conforming our Personal Learning Patterns to the Lord’s Standard
I’d like now to invite you to turn your attention to what the Lord would have you do to conform your learning on this campus to His standards for that learning. When President Thomas S. Monson spoke on this campus at the Golden Jubilee in 2005, he said,

“[When President David O. McKay broke ground for this campus] 50 years ago, [he] declared that there were two purposes for the school: first for things ‘pertaining to God and His kingdom’ and, second, to ‘develop… character and make noble men and women.” (David O. McKay, address at CCH groundbreaking, 12 February 1955; in Reuben D. law, The Founding and early Development of CCH [St. George, Utah: Dixie College Press, 1972, pp 66-67.])

These two elements of the mission of BYU–Hawaii have been reiterated by every prophet since President McKay. As summarized by President Hinckley while on this campus a few years ago,

“Each day we are made increasingly aware of the fact that life is more than science and mathematics, more than history and literature. There is a need for another education, without which the substance of our secular learning may lead only to our destruction. I refer to the education of the heart, of the conscience, of the character of the spirit—these indefinable aspects of our personalities which determine so certainly what we are and what we do in our relationships one with another.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, CCH campus, 1964. See also, Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning,” New Era, Sep 2007, 2–5)

Let me summarize the mission of BYU–Hawaii by delineating two elements: First to integrate spiritual learning with secular learning, so that you will have a foundation for a lifetime of learning—in all aspects of your life—when you leave this campus. And second, to help you develop the attributes of character and integrity so you can provide leadership in your homes and your families, and in your communities, your profession, and in building the Kingdom of God.

What does each of these mean to you personally? And how are you progressing at achieving both of these aims in your own life? Here at BYU–Hawaii, we are committed to doing all we can to help you achieve both of these. For example, we seek to invite the Spirit to be a part of all we do on this campus by beginning each of our classes and meetings with prayer; by weekly holding campus-wide devotionals such as this; by ensuring that your classes are taught by faithful, committed followers of our Savior, Jesus Christ; and, by facilitating your active involvement in a campus ward and stake.

But these steps alone will not ensure the integration of both your spiritual learning and your academic learning. The Lord’s prophets have recognized this and have chosen to place this campus adjacent to the temple, a setting where we can achieve even greater spiritual growth and development by making and keeping sacred covenants. We hope that each of you—every student, faculty and staff member—who has not yet made those covenants will set as a personal goal living worthy to do so before you leave this campus. And for those who have already made these covenants, we hope you will return to the temple often for further learning by faith in the “House of the Lord.”

In a wonderful talk on the power of the temple in our spiritual development, Elder Bednar summarized a consistent theme that those who attend the temple regularly and honor their covenants fully come to recognize. As he expressed, such individuals come to better understand “the protection available through our temple covenants and what it means to make an acceptable offering of temple worship. [They come to recognize that] there is a difference between church-attending, tithe-paying members who occasionally rush into the temple to go through a session and those members who faithfully and consistently worship in the temple.”

That difference is the protection promised to faithful saints through the prophet Joseph Smith. It is

“That no weapon formed against them shall prosper; that he who diggeth a pit for them shall fall into the same himself; That no combination of wickedness shall have power to rise up and prevail over thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house; And if any people shall rise against this people, that thine anger be kindled against them; And if they shall smite this people thou wilt smite them; thou wilt fight for thy people as thou didst in the day of battle, that they may be delivered from the hands of all their enemies.” (D&C 109: 25-28)

Such is the promise to all of us if we will be as diligent in pursuing our spiritual education while on this campus as the Lord, through His prophets, has admonished us to be in pursuing learning by faith in our academic endeavors on this campus. In sum, the Lord’s standard—to which he invites all of us to conform—is to integrate and combine worthy covenant making and faithful worship in the temple with learning by experience and by faith in the classroom.

The second part of the Lord’s standard for our education on this campus is the development of character and integrity so that each of us can provide the leadership that the Lord’s kingdom and this world need. As summarized in the words of President Hinckley earlier, this is the education of the heart, of the conscience, and of the character of the spirit. The Honor Code found on this campus—as confirmed by prophets—is one of the tools we have to assist us in our development of such character and integrity. Indeed, as we learn to live the spirit of that Honor Code—because it was given by the Lord’s prophets—it helps shape our habits of thought and behavior, and thus our character. Or as stated by President Ezra Taft Benson, “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with Power.” (As quoted by Elder Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Greatest Challenge,” Ensign, May 1998, 81).

Equally important to your development of the kind of character and leadership that the Lord has as part of His standard for those who come here to learn, is engaging in daily acts of service. Whether it is assisting a fellow student who is struggling with a course or some personal challenge, serving diligently in your calling in the ward, or simply helping a neighbor in need, these acts of service invite the Spirit more fully into your own life.

Some Simple Suggestions
Over the years I have watched numerous students at all different stages of their education and personal development tackle the challenge of learning all that the Lord would teach them. Based on those experiences, let me suggest a handful of simple steps you might take to maximize your learning at BYU–Hawaii and better achieve the mission outlined by prophets for those on this campus.

My first suggestion is one we’ve all heard: establishing a daily pattern of prayer and scripture study. These will assist you in staying close to the Spirit and being worthy of all the Lord would bless you with.

My second suggestion is that you make obedience a habit—including obedience to all aspects of the Honor Code—so that such obedience ceases to be an irritant and instead becomes a quest because you love the Lord and seek to serve Him.

My third suggestion would be to make the pattern of learning by faith a habit to be applied in every aspect of your life and in every decision you make. This includes doing your part to prepare and engage, as well as actively asking for the Lord’s help and blessings in all you do.

To assist and remind you of the importance of doing these things, we have designed a commemorative coin to serve as a reminder to each of us of the great blessing it is to be on this campus and of all the Lord desires to give us if we will but live His Gospel and follow Him. We will give each of you this coin as you depart from our devotional today, but let me just explain, briefly, its key elements.

On one side of the coin, you will see a depiction of the Laie Temple, reminding each of us of the great power of the temple when we keep the covenants made there and attend and worship there faithfully. You will also see the word “ALOHA” and the words “Atonement,” “Love,” and “Obedience” inscribed on this side of the coin.

The A in Aloha is a reminder of the Savior’s Atonement and His love for us. The L reminds of our need to love God and all of our brothers and sisters. The O reminds us of the need for obedience if we desire all the blessings the Lord has in store for us—both individually and collectively. And the HA of course represents the “breath of life.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ not only enriches and blesses our mortal lives, but provides the path for eternal life. In combination, these represent the Aloha spirit here on campus.

They also represent the motto adopted by the Hawaii–Honolulu Mission. That motto is,

“The Atonement of Jesus Christ is our message, Love of God and of others is our motivation, and Obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength. By sharing the gospel with others, we can give them the ‘HA’—the breath of life, even eternal life. ALOHA.” (See BYU–Hawaii Devotional, President and Sister Peterson, BYU–Hawaii Campus, July 15, 2008.)

On the other side of the coin, the logo of BYU–Hawaii and its founding date serve as a reminder of the incredible heritage we are blessed with here at one of the Lord’s Universities, as a result of the many sacrifices made by those who have come before. At the top of this side is inscribed the first half of the BYU–Hawaii motto, “Enter to Learn”. Our hope for all of you is that you will indeed “Enter to Learn”—both spiritually and academically.

The second half of the BYU–Hawaii motto, “Go Forth to Serve”, captures the importance of pursuing our education and all that we learn for the purposes of blessing the lives of others and of serving the Lord wherever He directs us.

We hope that this commemorative coin will not only be a daily reminder to you of the mission the Lord has for you on this campus, but that it will help you better focus on conforming your own learning to the standards and pattern that a loving Father in Heaven has revealed through His prophets.

I testify that the “glory of God is intelligence” and that His only begotten Son can and will teach us all that we need to know in order to return to His presence. I also add my testimony to that of so many others, that living prophets have established this campus to assist each of us in gaining all of the education possible so that we might better serve the Lord and provide the leadership that this world so desperately needs. May we each seek to diligently and faithfully do so is my hope and prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.