President Henry J. Eyring
Henry Johnson Eyring became the 17th president of Brigham Young University-Idaho in April 2017.
President Eyring and his family have had a long association with Rexburg and BYU-Idaho. He first came to the area as a child when his father, President Henry B. Eyring, served as president of Ricks College.
He returned to Rexburg and the relatively new BYU-Idaho in 2006. Over the ensuing 11 years at the university, he has served as associate academic vice president over Online Learning,
Prior to his work at BYU-Idaho, President Eyring worked as a strategy consultant at Monitor Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and as MBA director at Brigham Young University in Provo.
President Eyring has served in various callings in the Church, including as a full-time missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission, bishop, mission president in the Japan Tokyo North Mission, and President of the Rexburg Idaho YSA 6th Stake.
President Eyring earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, a master’s degree in business administration, and a
Sister Eyring graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in English. She has served as a stake Young Women president and Primary president. President and Sister Eyring currently team teach the CTR 6 class in Primary.
President and Sister Eyring are the parents of five children. Their three oldest children are graduates of BYU-Idaho, and their two younger children live at home. They also have three grandchildren.
Please share your thoughts on the devotional discussion board.
- If you feel confident that you’ve chosen the right major, please describe how you made that choice. Also, please pass along your tips for those who are still uncertain about their major.
- How important is it to have a major that prepares you for the workplace? Is it possible to achieve that goal while majoring in a subject that doesn’t appear to be job-related?
- What activities, both in and outside of class, can help you fulfill President Henry B. Eyring’s prophecy of becoming a “natural leader”?
I’m grateful to be with you today. Building on Sister Eyring’s remarks, as well as the work you’ve done on the devotional discussion board, I hope to engage you in exploring your college education.
In 2010 President Russell M. Nelson visited BYU-Idaho and spoke these memorable words in a devotional:
Your mind is precious! It is sacred. Therefore, the education of one’s mind is also sacred. Indeed, education is a religious responsibility. . . .
Our Creator expects His children everywhere to gain an education as a personal endeavor. [i]
I have enjoyed exploring the importance of education with my three older children, Emily, Henry Christian, and Sarah, all grateful BYU-Idaho graduates. I’m beginning to explore similar things with Spencer, soon to be a high school senior. I’ve even raised the subject of college with Matthew, a junior high school student.
No matter how far along you are in college, it may be helpful to step back and ask, “How can I make the most of my educational opportunities at BYU-Idaho?” Many of you may be asking this question already. In fact, you may be asking with a sense of unease or even worry. You might be saying to yourself, “Am I in the right major? When I finally graduate, what will I do with my college degree?”
Learning from My Mistakes
Even if you’re nearing graduation and feel sure about the answers to those questions, it may be wise to think again. I say that from personal experience. As a senior in high school, I knew exactly the path I would take
With this clear graduate school goal in mind, I declared geology as my major when I filled out my college application. Everything went according to plan. I enjoyed the geology classes and made rapid progress toward graduation. I also got a summer internship with a large oil company exploring the possibilities of geothermal energy. But I never went on any field trip that wasn’t required for a class, nor did I attempt to get to know my professors outside of the classroom. My grades were good, and I felt confident that the admissions officers at Harvard would be sufficiently impressed with me, notwithstanding my lack of practical experience or enthusiastically supportive faculty mentors.
In fact, I felt so confident that I didn’t apply to any other graduate school. I was thus completely unprepared to receive a “thin letter” from Harvard. For your future reference, acceptance letters often include not only the good news of application
In fairness, my thin letter encouraged me to reapply after gaining at least two years of full-time work experience, as nearly all successful Harvard Business School applicants do. But my devastation wasn’t just a matter of wanting to be admitted quickly. I seriously doubted my ability to get meaningful work experience. The price of oil had fallen by half during my time in college, on its way to falling by half again in the next two years. [ii]
In other circumstances, I might have had the patience and optimism to take the Harvard counsel to get work experience and reapply. But experienced, graduate degree-holding professional geologists were being laid off in droves. The woeful joke at the time was that the best natural resource department in Denver, a leading energy hub, was also the shoe department at Sears, the Walmart of that time. Jobs in geology, especially for bachelor’s degree holders, were all but impossible to find.
Now, you may be wondering two things. One is how I could have been so foolish and unlucky in my educational plans. The other is why I am telling you this frightening story. The answer to the first question, about my foolishness and apparent bad luck, is that I can now look back and see that heaven was blessing me in spite of my vain ambitions and overconfidence. We’ll talk more about that later.
For now, let’s focus on the things you can learn from my scary story of bad college and career planning. In my defense, I did one important thing partly well. That thing was choosing a long-range goal to guide my choice of a college major. Rather than just picking a subject that I really liked, geology, I also picked it based on a post-graduation goal: getting into the Harvard Business School.
But I should have been looking past graduate school and on to the life’s work for which my degree would prepare me. I should have been making my best guess about what the life’s work would be. Was it to be a professor and academic administrator, like my father; a research scientist, like his father; or perhaps a real estate developer, like my maternal grandfather? Unfortunately, I wasn’t asking any of those questions.
A College Education Is More than a Major
The other big mistake I made was in defining my college education purely in terms of my choice of a major. It’s true that this choice
That specialized content turns out to be at least indirectly beneficial, serving as the intellectual apparatus for developing your powers of reasoning and communicating with others. You might think of it as a kind of mental and emotional jungle gym, valuable for stretching and strengthening your mind, as well as softening your heart. But much of the subject-matter content you master in college is likely to fade from memory unless you are among the surprisingly few graduates who work in a job closely related to your major. And even if you do work in a job related to your major, the knowledge required to do that job will change. In a 1971 Ricks College address, President Henry B. Eyring said:
If you and I were having a fatherly conversation right now, you might ask, “Isn’t my choice of major
Of course, that’s a hard question to answer, much harder than merely choosing a major. However, as a BYU-Idaho student, you have a valuable clue about your future. You are going to be what President Henry B. Eyring has called a “natural leader.” He has described you this way:
[Show video clip from Grad Night/Get Connected/Commencement video] [iv]
Now, you may be thinking this: “Brother Eyring, that’s a nice promise your father made. But how will it help me choose a major and plan my path to graduation?” Here is my answer, based on personal experience and on observing the experiences of others.
When you graduate, you will go to work. It may be in paid employment or in the home. For some of you, it will be both. You may start with no one reporting to you as a leader. But something is going to happen. Those of you who work full-time in the home are likely to have children. And you who work in paid employment will be recognized by your supervisors as natural leaders, to whom colleagues look for guidance and support. The result is likely to be a promotion to a management role.
Your Life as a Supervisor
When these things happen, in either the home or the workplace, you will become a supervisor. Now, I can imagine your mixed feelings about that title. I can hear you saying, “Parenthood is much more than mere supervision. And I didn’t come to college with the dream of becoming the typical boss.”
But the happy reality is that you can and will do great good as a supervisor of others. In fact, while your children will call you Mom or Dad, and your professional colleagues may refer to you as a boss, what you’ll really be is a good shepherd, representing the Savior. Even in the most humdrum tasks, you’ll help those you supervise to see
The skills and attitudes you’ll bring to bear as a supervisor are described in the scriptures. I particularly like this long and rich list found in the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” [v]
Note that knowledge is just one of the eleven qualities in this list. But other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as Joseph Smith’s personal example of learning, make it clear that we should be anxiously seeking knowledge. The very existence of BYU-Idaho and its sister institutions are evidence of that.
At the same time, it’s important to note that the academic disciplines as we now know
Failure to achieve such academic breadth put me in a bind when I graduated and found that geologists weren’t being hired. My narrow focus made me vulnerable to the fall in the price of oil, which put a temporary stop to exploration for new oil reserves. Yet things could have been different if I had been better prepared. Energy companies such as Exxon didn’t stop refining oil and selling gasoline. They still needed recent college graduates to help manage their refineries and their thousands of gas stations. If I’d taken even a few business courses, or, better yet, earned a minor or certificate in that field, I might have found a good job that could have prepared me to reapply to the Harvard Business School after two or more years.
Fortunately, I had taken some valuable courses outside of my geology major. Thanks to a technical writing course and two elective literature courses, I was a confident writer. I also had a passion for history. Those interests and abilities made me a good candidate for law school. I enrolled in BYU’s J. Rueben Clark Law School and found success there, becoming a student editor of the law review. I also applied for and received a summer internship in Exxon’s law department in Houston. My geology studies in college helped me succeed in that internship.
Augmenting Your Major to Survive and Thrive
Let’s talk about how learning from my experiences could help you. I was blessed to start college having already chosen a primary emphasis of study. These days, that could be a major, but it could also be a first certificate that may ultimately lead to a bachelor’s degree. When I say “major,” you can also think “
Even if you’re not sure about your interests, the best way to find a major is to make your best guess and “try it on.” If you reflect regularly and prayerfully about whether your major is a good fit for you, testing your interest and relative abilities in it, you’ll soon get a feeling about whether it’s right or wrong. If it is wrong, you can make a new guess and move on quickly, taking with you the insights you have gained about your preferences and inherent abilities.
As you settle into the right major, begin to think about another academic discipline that could complement your major. For me, business would have been such a
That same principle applies in fields other than business. For example, you’ll stand out if you have a ready answer to the question, “Communicating what?” “Teaching what?” “Engineering what?”
I can imagine that many of you are thinking, “Brother Eyring, you’re talking only about career-related majors. But I’m not going to college just to get a job. I might go to graduate school. And I might decide to apply my college education in the home. So, it may not be necessary for me to get a practical major.”
If you are thinking those things, you may well be right. However, just as students majoring in practical majors such as business or communication can benefit from a complementary minor or certificate in a different field, the same principle holds for all other majors. If you’re passionate about sociology or history or English, you can create a great foundation for natural leadership, because those academic disciplines will help you understand people better and communicate more effectively with them.
But, in the event that you need to make a living without a graduate degree, you’ll be better off if you also have a minor or certificate in a practical field such as social media marketing or data analytics. The same principle holds true—in reverse—for the more-obviously practical majors such as animal science or engineering or graphic design. An engineer, for example, could benefit from a course in psychology or theater, in preparation for the day when he or she is promoted to a supervisory position. A good supervisor must know how to interpret the thoughts and actions of others, and how to regulate their own ideas and actions. As Shakespeare wisely observed, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” [vi]
In summary, think about a college education that includes a combination of so-called “hard” and “soft” skills. Ideally, one component of your degree—either a major, a minor, or a certificate—will be directly related to a career you find attractive. But you are more likely to be recognized as a natural leader if you complement that set of “hard” skills with crucial “soft” ones, such as empathizing, brainstorming, negotiating, and coaching. You could develop these skills with classes in humanities such as music, dance, and foreign language or recreation management.
You’ll have the opportunity to explore both hard and soft skills in what we now call Foundations courses, known at most universities as General Education. These courses, most of which you’ll choose for yourself, will allow you to explore your interests and abilities. That will help you select your major or first certificate.
Developing Natural Leadership Ability
In all of your classes, you’ll have opportunities to develop the natural leadership abilities that will be such a great asset throughout your life. One of the best sources of natural leadership development is the BYU-Idaho Learning Model. If you prefer independent learning and pride yourself on being at the top of your class grade-wise, you may find it frustrating to have your performance
Yet there is no better way to develop natural leadership ability than by lifting a fellow student, especially someone who seems resistant to being lifted. In most academic environments, success is measured largely by comparison with other students. Grading “curves” are common, and there are only so many A grades available. The BYU-Idaho Learning Model, by contrast, encourages collaboration with other students.
It’s true that such collaboration comes with the risk of a lower grade than you might have earned on your own. In fact, the three BYU-Idaho graduates in my family sometimes paid the price of either doing more than their share or getting a lower group grade than they might have earned alone. Yet those apparent sacrifices have benefitted them in the workplace, as well as in their homes and Church assignments. Most of the “grades” that matter in life
BYU-Idaho also provides opportunities to develop natural leadership ability outside of class. One of the best ways to do that is to get to know your professors personally. Share your dreams and plans with them, and seek their guidance. Be open to their recommendations for going above and beyond the minimum requirement for getting a good grade. Take their counsel seriously, even if it is not what you were hoping to hear.
For those who have time, the university also provides organized student activities in which you can collaborate with fellow participants. You could also become a formal leader of one of these groups. But even if you don’t have that much time to spare, you’ll find natural leadership opportunities in your apartment, particularly as you apply the principles of Student Living with your roommates. Your service
One or more internships will also help you develop natural leadership abilities. Even an unpaid internship can help identify your interests and the additional courses that would differentiate you in full-time employment. The more internship experience you have, the more you will be able to set yourself apart from other job applicants and new hires.
Each of you has the divine potential to be a natural leader. And BYU-Idaho is designed to help you become one. You can lay the academic foundation for natural leadership by building a complementary mix of “hard” and “soft” skills. To that
Your General Education courses will also enhance your natural leadership capability, by expanding your intellectual interests and increasing your appreciation for different
Seeking Guidance and Spiritual Confirmation
Through it all, I challenge you to seek guidance and spiritual confirmation in planning your college education. Heavenly Father will reward your efforts to humbly and persistently seek His guidance. Those efforts should include talking with fellow students, professors, your parents, and other role models. Their educational and leadership experiences will help you to plan your own.
I’d like to invite Katelyn Hartley to join me to share some of her personal journey as a BYU-Idaho student. Katelyn
Thanks very much, Katelyn. You’re well on the way to personally fulfilling President Eyring’s prophecy of becoming a natural leader. Katelyn’s story also reminds me of the wonderful metaphor shared by Sister Kyoung Dabell in her devotional address at the end of last semester. Sister Dabell described the spiritual “tailwind” that can speed us along when we’re on a course approved by Heavenly Father. [vii]
May we be blessed to find the spiritual tailwind that is blowing in the direction Heavenly Father would have us go. The Holy Ghost can help us find that tailwind, which is powered by the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that we will all be worthy of that supernal power. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] President Russell M. Nelson, “Education: A Religious Responsibility,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, 26 Jan 2010.
[iii] President Henry B. Eyring, Untitled Address, Ricks College, 6 July 1971.
[iv] “Light to the World,” BYU-Idaho Commencement Video Clip.
[v] Doctrine and Covenants 4:6.
[vi] William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 6.
[vii] Kyoung DaBell, “Finding Your Spiritual Tailwind,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, 3 Apr 2018.