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Craig Nelson

Beginnings and Endings

I have to tell you, I’ve been prepared for the leaving, but not for the kindness. President, thank you for that. Thank you, choir, for that lovely music. “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy”[1] has particular meaning to me and to our family, and I’m grateful that the choir would sing that today.

The Lord has been very kind to me. One of my goals before I left the College was to see our devotional hall packed, and today it is. Thanks for coming. I know you’re not coming for me. But really, if you are in the front, you ought to look around. It’s full! It’s just full. There are a few empty seats, but it’s almost to capacity. What a great blessing and kindness.

The President was really kind in his introduction. Most of you don’t know me, but when you look at me, what do you see? If you were to hear that introduction of somebody, you might think I was a privileged person, someone born with extra opportunities. But do you want to know what I see when I look at myself? That’s what I see [a picture of a field of wheat with a tractor]. I started out as a plowboy. My first real job was at age 12, driving a tractor. And my job was to plow the field.

There are a number of things you have to worry about when you drive a tractor. We won’t talk about all of them, but probably the most constant worry is to keep the lines straight. That’s the hardest part, actually. And to do that, you have to pick a landmark. It’s a tree or a shrub or something, and you just drive to that. And you turn around and go the other way, and there’s another landmark. You do that all day. Boredom is the real enemy here. Tractors don’t go real fast, about walking speed, so it’s easy to get distracted. And if you get distracted, your lines tend to look bad.

So, for the first few hours every Monday morning, I was pretty good about straight lines. But by Friday . . . not so straight. You know, I was 12, and it’s easy to get distracted by birds or squirrels or whatever. Now, I’ve also had my fair share of experience cutting and bailing and stacking hay. It’s kind of how I grew up. Just so you know, this is information that you’ll never use again, but ranch hands are paid in two ways when they do hay. They’re paid $100 a month, or they’re paid a penny a bale.

Now, the farmers are pretty smart. They give you that option. You’re going to make a lot more money if you charge a penny a bale, but you’ve got to count each bale. And you’re out in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, with an hour and a half for lunch, that’s a lot of bales. And somewhere about 2:00 you get a little punchy because of the heat and the fatigue, and you lose count. So, I got paid $100 a month for a long time. Needless to say, I didn’t save up very much for my mission doing this.

The real question that really ought to be on your mind is, how did somebody like that end up in this place? How did I go from there to here? And what might be the lessons for you that will help you get from where you are to where you want to be? I’d like to share with you, just quickly, seven points of things I’ve learned along the way that help me to understand how to get from the plow to the podium here today.

Seven Recommendations for Success

1. Be obedient. I can’t overstate this one enough; this is the most important. If you want to underline something, underline this one. Of all the things that you can do, be obedient to the Lord’s commandments. If you can be obedient to the commandments, you’re going to be just fine. I learned on my mission that the Church was true, but something happened on my mission that I hope happens to all of you. On a certain day, at a certain time, in a certain circumstance, I said to myself, “How far in am I going to be? How committed am I going to be?” And I made a commitment to God—a promise to Him and to myself—that I would be all the way in.

I remember distinctly looking back when I left the building where I made that commitment, looking back up at the window and thinking to myself, “I will never be the same.” And that has been true for me, and it will be true for you. If you make a commitment to always be obedient, all the way in—and that doesn’t mean you are perfect—then God can do amazing things with you. But first you have to be obedient. If you want to be successful, if you want the Lord to guide you and help you, be all the way in. Make a commitment, and promise yourself and God that you will do everything that He asks of you.

The second thing is to expect more from yourself. When I was just brand new off the farm and coming to BYU at the time, I met Heather, my future wife. She was cute and she was also really smart. I didn’t know that at the time.

I remember one day sitting with her, feeling pretty full of myself, because here I was, at BYU, and earning B’s. I was pretty excited about that. We were sitting there in the library, and I said to Heather—with a degree of pride—“I’m getting B’s.”

There was this long pause, and she said, “And you’re good with that?” I thought  to myself, “Well, I was.” From that moment on I started to watch her, and I noticed that she studied differently than I did. Her manner of going about learning was entirely different than mine. So I started to mimic her, and the more I copied her way of studying, the better my grades became. I never got as good as she is, but I was able to increase my grades to the point that I expected more of myself.

The Lord needs powerful men and women. Why not you? Why not now? You just have to expect more of yourself. Ask yourself to do more than you think you can do, and the Lord will be kind to you.

The third item is to work hard. The Lord can do a lot with you if you are willing to work hard. Think of Nephi and his journey, and what he did. His bow broke, and his brothers whined. What did he do? He went to work. He got to the shore and his brothers whined, and what did he do? He got to work, and he worked hard. I don’t think that was easy stuff.

He got to the new land. There was nothing here. And he built a civilization that lasted for centuries. Amazing. He worked hard. The Lord can do great things with you if you will work hard. From my experience, part of working hard is getting up early. So you should look at yourself and say, “When do I get up? Am I getting up early enough to get a good start on the day?”

Also, be willing to inconvenience yourself. You cannot work hard and have it be convenient. It’s always inconvenient. But if you are willing to do it, the Lord will bless you, and help you, and strengthen you.

Fourth, trust God to make something of you, more than you can make of yourself. My career goals for myself were much less than how it has turned out to be. If I had gotten what I hoped for, when I thought I was being lofty, I wouldn’t be here. What the Lord has done is truly amazing.

Now, this is not a passive effort. This is an active way of being able to expect that the Lord will do more with you. But you have to do your part. I love the story of the parable of the sower. You know that parable.  We often talk about how the sower threw seeds and some fell on stony ground and some on rocky ground, but we sometimes skip over the part about the good ground. You remember that some of the ground produced a return of thirty, some of sixty, and some one hundred.[2] You know that parable. We often talk about how the sower threw seeds and some fell on stony ground and some on rocky ground, but we sometimes skip over the part about the good ground. You remember that some of the ground produced a return of 30, some of 60, and some of 100. The question then becomes, what kind of harvest do you want? Do you want a crop of 30, or 60, or of 100?

Now, I know from experience on the farm that you have to work in the field to make it more fertile to get a better yield. I don’t think the Lord says, “You’re a ‘30,’ and I think you’re a ‘60.’ And you way in the back there, you can be the ‘100.’” I don’t think He does that. I think He says, “How much do you want to be? Do you want to be a 30, or a 60, or a 100? It’s entirely up to you. How hard are you willing to work to fertilize your field? And if you want it to be fertile, you can have a good crop.”

You have to be a bit courageous because He will stretch you. And it’s a bit uncomfortable and can be unsettling, but it is how you grow. You have to have an attitude that God will bless you, because He will. He will help you. And you have to be willing to change directions, to adapt to opportunities, to look for ways to take advantage of what comes your way. Because it will come. You just need to be ready and trust that God will make of you more than you can make of yourself. He wants to. He wants you to be like Him. He doesn’t want you to be less than that.

Which leads me to my fifth point:

5. Watch your thoughts.

I’m not talking about purity. You should have that one taken care of, I hope. What I am talking about are the thoughts that you have in your brain that cut you short, that sell you for less than your worth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Sow a thought and you reap an action;

Sow an act and you reap a habit;

Sow a habit and you reap a character;

Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

They are connected. Your thoughts drive what happens to you. There is a book called As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen. If I were suggesting a book to read, that would be one. It’s free, in the public domain. Here is a poem that James Allen wrote for the book:

Mind is the Master power that molds and makes,

And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes

The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:—

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

Environment is but his looking-glass.[3]

If you don’t like where you are, check your thoughts. You may be creating exactly what you don’t want. Watch your thoughts. They will guide you and make you who you will become.

6. Be kind to others.

We are in this together, folks. You need to be patient and slow to condemn. You need to edify. People have enough critics. You be a lifter. It changes who you are, and as you do it, it’s like casting your bread on the waters—it comes back to you after many days. The kinder you are, the more you will lift yourself.

Which gets me to my final point:

7. Think more about others than you do about yourself.

I heard the other day that humility is not thinking less about yourself; it’s thinking about yourself less. We spend so much mental and emotional time justifying ourselves to ourselves.

You know how this conversation goes in your head. Somebody says something, and it makes you mad and you didn’t respond well, so you spend the next three hours thinking about what you would have said or could have said, or “Boy, if I had said this, that would show them.” You do that, but it’s wasted energy. Why do you do that? You will never have that conversation. It never happens. But we spend hours in the effort, going through the conversation in our minds again and again. The only thing that does is to make us look at other people as less than they are. Don’t do that. It will set you up to do, to say, to act the wrong ways. Think more about the other person. Spend your time thinking about how you might lift, how you might edify.

One thing I would suggest that you spend a good amount of time thinking about, in terms of thinking about others, is your family and your posterity. I know some of you don’t have a family yet, but I’ve come to realize that part of our duty—yours and mine, no matter where we are in the family timeline—is to work for and serve the next generation. Think about it. When the Lord sends a people to another place, when He sends them to a promised land, He does so for their posterity. He says He will send them to this land so their posterity might be raised in righteousness and that they might have sufficient for their needs.

Now we are sitting on ground where our pioneer ancestors lived and worked and died, and I can tell you, they never sat as comfortably as we are sitting today. This is terrible ground for growing crops. If they wanted to grow crops, they would have stayed in Nauvoo. This is bad dirt. The pioneers broke three plows the very first day they arrived in the valley just trying to get the ground loose. I can imagine some of them thinking, “And we left Nauvoo for this?” It was hard for them to grow anything here because there were so many problems.

They lived in dugouts. Those are mud houses. And every time it rains, the mud drips down on you. That’s not comfortable living. They left nice homes, nice farms. Why did they do that? Because they had a better condition here? Absolutely not. Their living condition here was worse. But they did it because they knew they were building the next generation. And so are you.

You are building your posterity, your next generation, right now. So, as you go to school, it’s not just for you. It’s for your posterity. As you build your faithfulness, it’s not just for you. It’s for your posterity. And in fact, the legacy that you will leave is to them. The life that they will lead is because of you. What kind of inheritance will you make for your family? You have a chance now to think about that and to work at it. I hope you will do just that.

Now, tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up and I’ll be just like you, on a brand-new journey. I’ll just be older, but in the same place. I’ll have the same concerns and anxieties that you have about not knowing the future. But, brothers and sisters, if you have faith in God, He will direct you and help you. Listen to the scripture: “I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”[4]

And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons [and daughters] of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh. . . . I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.[5]

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under . . . heaven. [And] he hath made every thing beautiful in his time.”[6] He has certainly made everything beautiful in my time. May He make your time beautiful. We love you. God bless you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” Hymns, no. 335.

[2] See Mark 4:3–8; Matthew 13:1–13.

[3] James Allen, “As a Man Thinketh,” Project Gutenberg,

[4] 3 Nephi 9:18.

[5] 3 Nephi 9:17, 18.

[6] Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11.


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