For anyone who couldn’t be there, here’s what I said at the senior banquet:
While speaking to a group of BYU students in the late 1960’s, Hugh B. Brown–a counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church for many years–invited them (and I believe, all of us) to think a little more. “One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind” he said. “Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking.”
During my time here at Southern Virginia, I have come to value thinking very much. I think that the most important thing that we have to offer is our unique potential to cultivate “more thinking” in an LDS environment. That is what is so beautiful about a Liberal Arts education: it forces you to think in ways foreign to your instincts.
It is that very spirit of Liberal Arts that attracted me to this university. I came for the small class sizes and Latter-day Saint environment, but I stayed for the Liberal Arts. There have been times when I wondered “why am I required to take this class?” I’m not a biology major. I am not a theater major. I’m certainly not a philosophy major. So why take it? Why place value on information that I will likely never use? Are we just jumping through hoops? No, we are not. We take these classes because it’s essential for us to know that there are many facets to truth. I may like history more, but that doesn’t lessen the value of math. If my pursuit is for truth, then I have to learn the importance of all its angles. Recognizing our own lack of understanding is certainly an important part of our earthly experience. As President Brown also said in the same address:
“We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth, for we do not.”
That pursuit of truth, I believe, is worth something. In a world where information is constantly at our fingertips – literally – it’s become harder to decipher what’s true. What makes sense. What makes us better people. We must avoid falling into the mentality that our education exists only to “train” us, or reinforce our own ideas. Especially if we accept the challenge to become Leader Servants.
Hugh Nibley, a lifelong educator and great Mormon thinker once made a distinction between “leaders” (or what we would call Leader-Servants) and “managers.” Leaders, he said, are “movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace.” They combat the bland ideas of the manager, who are “safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men.”
“[L]eadership” he continued, “is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past, on which all civilization has been nourished, come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mold.” That is exactly why I think the Liberal Arts are so vital in preparing future leaders; they help us see things differently and break the mold.
I’m grateful that I belong to a faith that values education. Not everyone at Southern Virginia is a member of the LDS church, but I think at the very least we can all agree that “the glory of God is intelligence.” What a rich idea. God not only wants us to be happy, but he wants us to be smart as well. Of course he also wants us to be productive, not just sit around and wonder about the mysteries of life all the time. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss them.
Brigham Young, the great Pioneer Prophet who urged the saints to model their lives after the productive habits of the honey bee was also quick to remind them to sit, and think every once in a while. “This people have embraced the philosophy of eternal lives,” He declared “and in view of this we should cease to be children and become philosophers, understanding our own existence, its purpose and intimate design, then our days will not become a blank through ignorance. God has placed us here, given us the ability we possess, and supplied the means upon which we can operate to produce social, national, and eternal happiness.”
I am proud to say that Southern Virginia will forever be my Alma Mater. My nourishing mother. In a way, I was born here. I think many of us could say that. She taught me the skills to think like Brother Brigham so earnestly advocates. Here, I have learned the value of hard work, of diligence, but also of truth. I am pleased to say that I am not the man I was 4 years ago. In fact, I am not the man I was 6 months ago. A liberal arts education will do that to you. Hopefully, if I apply what I’ve learned here, 6 months from now I will have changed even more. Such is my hope for all of us.