Brother Roger G. Christensen
Secretary to the Board of Trustees
Roger G. Christensen
July 18, 2008
It is an honor for me to be invited to share a few introductory remarks with you graduates at this commencement. I am here on behalf of the Commissioner, Elder Kerr, and bring his love and greetings to you all. Since he will be completing his assignment as Commissioner on August 1, he would have liked to have been here this afternoon to participate in the last commencement prior to the end of his service. However, most of you would know he has been called as the new temple president of the Logan Temple and he is busily preparing for that assignment; therefore, he asked that I come and represent him here today.
Graduation is a time when you receive lots of advice and guidance for your future. Some comes from parents, friends, spouses, and even from commencement speakers. Some of that counsel will be good; some will soon be forgotten. As I have reflected on what I could share with you today, I have been impressed by the Spirit to share some thoughts that are as much for me as they are for you. I hope that from time to time you may have occasion to remember a little of what I will share with you, and hopefully it may make a difference in your life or in the lives of those you will touch. I would like to address briefly the importance of using what you have gained while obtaining an education in learning to ask questions.
One of the evidences of an education is the ability to think. Another is the ability to ask appropriate questions. Asking thoughtful questions of those who are uniquely qualified to share their insights and inspiration with you can be an enriching blessing as you continue to learn throughout your life.
There are many great questions to ponder. Some interesting ones come from listening to little children, such as:
- Why do birds that can’t fly have wings?
- Do bees sneeze?
- Do worms have eyes?
- What is lightening good for?
- Why does cutting an onion make you cry?
- If you learn too much does your brain get full?
- Will kissing kill you?
As we get older and learn more, we tend to ask deeper, more probing questions – both intellectually and spiritually. We all enjoy the blessings of the restoration, priesthood ordinances, the Book of Mormon, and the revelations found in the Doctrine & Covenants all “because Joseph asked.” A carefully considered question can open our minds and our hearts to new vistas of understanding and deeper spiritual insights. The more questions we ask, the more we will learn; the more we learn, the more questions we will have until eventually we will come to know the truth of all things, which is defined in the revelations as “a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).
Before my father died, he once lamented that one of the challenges with getting older was when you finally were old enough to know all the answers, people stopped asking you the questions. Although my children may argue to the contrary, I know I am not old. And the reason I know I am not old is because, by my father’s standard at least, not only do I not know all the answers I am still learning the questions. Great insight and wisdom can be gained by asking questions of those who have a wealth of knowledge based on their academic achievements and through life’s experiences.
Another evidence of an educated mind is to find interest in learning about others – what they do and what they know – and being able to bring out the best in them. One of my favorite stories contrasting being self-absorbed versus bringing out the best in others comes from the history of Victorian England. Two of the most noted British politicians and statesmen of the nineteenth century were Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. They were political rivals and both served in the British Parliament most of their adult lives, Disraeli for 44 years and Gladstone for 62 years. They alternated serving as Prime Minister (Disraeli twice and Gladstone four times) several times during their careers depending on which of the two political parties was in power.
While attending a number of formal banquets, Lady Jennie Churchill, the mother of Sir Winston Churchill, was privileged to sit next to each of these leaders. Later she was asked by a friend what she had learned from these great men. She replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England, but when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman” (Hibbert, 2006, p. 336).
A great example of the consummate learner, one interested in others and learning from others, was President Eyring’s father. Professor Henry Eyring was one of the world’s most notable and respected chemists of his day. During his career he received every honor and award, both nationally and internationally, available in the field of chemistry with the exception of the Nobel Prize, and some believed he should have received it as well. Even with all of his education and experience, Brother Eyring was always seeking to learn from other people, regardless of their station in life.
One example comes from an event shared by President Eyring. One afternoon on his way home from the university, Professor Eyring stopped at a service station to get gas for his car. (For those who do not know what a service station is: once upon a time when you stopped for gas, a person actually came out and filled your tank, checked your oil, washed your windshield, and processed your payment – all with a smile on his face.) While he was waiting for the service to be completed, Professor Eyring got out of his car and struck up a conversation with the young attendant. When he got back in the car, his son, Henry, asked why he had spent time talking to a gas station attendant. Brother Eyring wisely and correctly noted, “Look, I can learn something from anybody. Everyone has had experiences I haven’t had” (Eyring, 1997, p. 24).
Engaging a person in a conversation which allows them to open up and share what they have learned in life is a great social skill that will benefit you tremendously. Some are more gifted at it than others, but we are counseled to “seek…earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8).
One more example of that was demonstrated in a meeting with Elder David B. Haight. He was assigned to our stake conference several years ago, which was an unforgettable experience. In addition to the tremendous spiritual counsel, guidance, and wisdom that he shared as a special witness of the Savior, I was very impressed watching him at a dinner we had between our Saturday meetings. He would engage one person in a conversation about his work, family, interests, etc. and then ask insightful and knowledgeable questions about whatever topic was being discussed to try to understand that person more deeply. Then he would engage another person the same way and head off into an entirely different direction with the same depth of insight and questions about the new topic. His breadth of knowledge, education, and experience were remarkable and he demonstrated it not by telling what he knew, but by asking questions and allowing others to share their knowledge and learn from an apostle in the process.
President Hinckley also was a man of tremendous spiritual and intellectual capacity. His knowledge was vast and his curiosity was keen. He was always asking questions. At one point in my career when I started meeting with the First Presidency on a regular basis on business-related matters, I was counseled by a colleague always to be prepared. He observed that President Hinckley would always be asking questions and his questions had one of three objectives: (1) his natural curiosity drove him to want to learn what he could from each person he would meet with, (2) he would want to know whether you knew about your area of responsibility and knew what you were doing so he wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of the work, and (3) he would use the questioning process to teach a principle to someone else in the meeting. I always had to be prepared, because I was never sure which of the three, or perhaps all three concurrently, were going on.
I can assure you that the current First Presidency is equally blessed with a natural curiosity and tremendous spiritual and intellectual capacity. It is a great blessing to be able to work with them and try to anticipate the kinds of questions they might ask as we prepare to share issues related to all aspects of the Church Educational System, including BYU-Idaho, with them.
You have learned a lot while being a student and are now anxious to go out and apply your knowledge and impress those who offered you a job and who are willing to pay you for what you have learned. However, rather than just trying to impress others by telling them how much you know, don’t forget to be observant and to ask questions of those who have greater experience, then listen for wise counsel and be discerning about what you might be able to apply in your life.
“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (3 Nephi 14:7). In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Eyring, H. (1997). To Draw Closer to God. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, UT.
Hibbert, C. (2006). Disraeli: The Victorian Dandy Who Became Prime Minster. McMillan: New York, NY.
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Audio of Max L. Checketts's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Winter 2008