The Circle of Honor
How grateful we all should be to attend a school of higher education like this. Surely, this Institution delivers far more than a piece of paper with a person’s name on it upon graduating. As I look over this audience and reflect upon my academic experience, a statement in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, seems to express my feelings:
“Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds” (Albom, M., Tuesdays with Morrie, p. 192).
As a student here some years ago, I never expected to walk into an accounting or management class and learn things far beyond the content of the course. I never expected to fall in love with the sky from listening to an instructor’s passion for the universe. I never expected to have an English teacher be so generous and understanding of life’s situations and personal circumstances. And most importantly, I never knew how anxious the Lord was to have me be successful until understanding that, and how, He sent me here, just as He has done for you.
While speaking at Brigham Young Academy, President Karl G. Maeser, the first president of this institution, gave his first official address to 29 students and some members of the Board of Trustees. “I trust you all,” he said, “I give you my confidence. I hope you will do nothing to weaken that confidence, I put you all on your word of honor” (Ernest L. Wilkinson, BYU Speeches, Oct. 5, 1960, p. 15-16).
Later, in another meeting, President Maeser expounded on what he felt it really meant to be honorable in these words:
“I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I'd die first."
I have titled this address “The Circle of Honor,” because each of us, like Brother Maeser, has metaphorically drawn a circle around ourselves and covenanted that we would never cross the line. That line was drawn the day we were baptized. It was drawn again for those who have entered the temple, received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood, or have made personal covenants with the Lord. And it was drawn in a bishop’s office when meeting with a common judge in Israel when signing your name and saying you would live to a higher standard when attending this Institution. Because of these covenants you and I have made, and also the increased ability the Lord has to bless because of them, as President Heber C. Kimball said, “You can’t sin so cheap no more” (1844 journal, LDS Church Historical Library, Salt Lake City).
A few reasons exist for why I have chosen to speak on this subject. The first is because living with honor should encapsulate the entire student experience at LDS Business College. Heaven becomes intimately involved in your academic and spiritual development the very moment you choose to live and love the Honor Code. This happens because it is not so much about obeying an honor code as it is about living with honor.
The second reason is because all of us need a stronger moral compass and indefatigable moral courage. As organizations lose credibility because of dishonesty and homes continue to become broken, we all need a continued “determined resolution” to be “steadfast and immovable” (Alma 47:6; Mosiah 5:15).
The final reason comes from a concern shared with me by a student last semester. With sadness and frustration, this person expressed how hurt they were to go into a classroom where men were not shaving and women were not dressing modestly. I listened to this person for 20 minutes as they emotionally expressed how disappointed their returned missionary friends were to have girls wearing short skirts or revealing clothing. “Why would someone choose not to keep the Honor Code?” asked this student.
This is a great question. The answer, from my experience, is different for every person. While there may not be a universal response, they all stem back to a person’s commitment and willingness to be obedient. How does a student, faculty or staff member at LDS Business College righteously influence a person's commitment and obedience level? By doing what the Prophet Joseph did: "teach them correct principles" so they can "govern themselves" ( Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54). It is better that way.
Lehi could have chosen to be satisfied having Laman and Lemuel "suspended" from the educational journey to the promised land and “sent home” to Jerusalem. He would have had good reason to particularly after they were guilty of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to murder. But he chose to have them stay and continue through the wilderness, because he wanted to be with them in the Promised Land. He hoped their minds and hearts would change and turn to the Lord while being saturated in the environment he and Sariah worked so diligently to cultivate in their home. For Lehi, the process of getting to the Promised Land was just as important as being in the Promised Land. Perhaps, when we seek to help improve the behavior of people we love, we should try to emulate Lehi’s example of spending more time teaching than disciplining.
Why does a place like LDS Business College have an Honor Code? I would like for all of you to ponder this during our time together while I provide a few things to consider. Much like the temples that are dedicated by prophets, seers, and revelators, this building was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2006. Considering that a temple recommend, which demonstrates a commitment to a higher standard of living, is to be signed by a bishop, stake president, and the person seeking admission to the House of the Lord, the same endorsement is required to come here. When Thomas Jefferson instituted the College of William and Mary, he promoted a code of honor among the first students of the United States. Jefferson wanted something much more than education to be prevalent in the character of college graduates. President David O. McKay seemed to describe what Thomas Jefferson likely felt when he said, “True education seeks to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men and women with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love.”
Three things are enveloped in the genetic makeup of what brings life and vitality to living with honor that I would like to spend the rest of my time addressing. First, living so that you can be trusted; second, living in the pursuit of excellence; and third, living in the service of others.
Living So That You Can Be Trusted
When Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin was playing football in a championship game, he once found himself stacked beneath 10 other players as he made a charge toward the goal line. When stretching his hand forward, he quickly observed that the goal line was only two inches away. The temptation to push the ball forward spoke to his mind. But there was another voice that came as well. It was the voice of his mother telling him to always do right.
It is important to gain some perspective to the situation Elder Wirthlin was really involved in. He was only known as Joseph at the time, for this experience came much earlier than when he was called to weighty Church assignments. Of the two inches lacked from making a touchdown, Elder Wirthlin had fought and toiled through 99.94% of the entire football field. Additionally, he, like Enos and Alma, in an hour of need remembered a lesson that was most likely taught first in the home. Had he chosen to push the ball forward, he would not only have cheated the other team, but also himself, his team, and the university he played for.
Elder Wirthlin said of this moment, “I wanted so desperately to score that touchdown. But more than being a hero in the eyes of my friends, I wanted to be a hero in the eyes of my mother. And so I left the ball where it was—two inches from the goal line.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a defining experience. Had I moved the ball, I could have been a champion for a moment, but the reward of temporary glory would have carried with it too steep and too lasting a price. It would have engraved upon my conscience a scar that would have stayed with me the remainder of my life” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Life’s Lessons Learned,” April 2007).
A few things are worth noting for application of this experience. First, living so that you can be trusted should be your primary objective in everything you do, because you represent God, His Church, and this Institution at all times, in all things, and in all places. A dear friend, who is also one of our alumni, recently wrote to me and said:
“Ever since I have left LDSBC, I find it an even greater responsibility to know that if someone sees me I can stand proud as an LDS Business College graduate. They will know from my very appearance and behavior that I do something a little different. I still make it a point to shave each day, even if I feel lazy. The honor code became such a part of me that it has quite literally changed my demeanor and disposition for the good! Sometimes we do not really understand why we do things asked of us, but as we are obedient to those principle and rules, our lives will be blessed in ways we did not realize possible. We become better people and, more importantly, become what God wants us to become.”
Second, there will be times in your life when you fight and toil so hard through the football field of a homework assignment, a task from an employer, keeping a commandment, or something else and have gone 99% of the way. Do not entertain or welcome in the temptation to feel entitled and “push the ball forward.” Your defining experiences may not occur on a football field, but when you choose to leave the ball right where it is, even if it is two inches from your goal. How you get your results is just as important as the results themselves. If it is an academic assignment, please consider C. Madison Sarratt’s counsel from Vanderbilt University: “Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry.”
Third, choosing to disregard your integrity in any shape or form will engrave upon your “conscience a scar” that will stay with you wherever you go. For example: two people have contacted me in the last 8 months and confessed to being dishonest on a test some years ago. Both of these people have graduated with their associate’s degree, and one was just about to complete their bachelor’s from a prestigious business school. The weight of the decision to cheat left such a scar on their conscience that both were willing to return their diplomas and retake the class they cheated in. Little wonder why Sir Winston Churchill said, “With integrity, nothing else counts. Without integrity, nothing else counts.”
The reason dishonesty is so deplorable is because it weakens all other virtues. It places a wedge in tree of your development. The person selling themself so cheap for this kind of “red pottage” is being dishonest with themself, their teacher, their classmates, their future employers, and God (Gen. 25:30-34). This principle is illustrated in more detail in the following statement from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
“The qualities of honesty and truthfulness are the foundation of all organizations and all personal relationships. If a husband or an employee or a student or a teacher cannot be relied upon to tell the truth—not just usually but invariably—a relationship with that individual can never be a satisfactory one. Like their companion virtue of loyalty, honesty and truthfulness are not valuable unless they are absolute. How much trust would you place in a person who told you the truth ninety-five percent of the time? How much value is an employee who does not steal from his employer—ninety-five percent of the time? The ninety-five-percenter is like a leaky bucket: the hole may be small, but it renders the entire vessel unworthy of its purpose. Unless the hole can be mended, the bucket is bound for the trash heap” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Be Honest in All Behavior,” Jan 30, 1973).
Living so that you can be trusted is especially exemplified in the life of Jon Huntsman, Sr., particularly when he sealed a business deal with a handshake to sell 40% of a division of his company for $54 million. The time it took for lawyers to draft the documents to complete this transaction was six and a half months. In the meantime, the price of materials decreased and profit margins were reaching all-time highs. No documents had been exchanged, and that 40% was now worth $250 million. How easy it must have been to back out because, after all, it was only a handshake. Nevertheless, Elder Huntsman insisted that the deal was sealed with a handshake, and the price would remain at $54 million. Elder Huntsman has since made the following statement about that occurrence, “I never had to wrestle with my conscience or to look over my shoulder. My word was my bond.” (Winners Never Cheat, p. 83) Like Samuel, “let none of [your] words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19).
Living in the Pursuit of Excellence
Living in the pursuit of excellence means our outward expression reflects our inward commitment. We live with merit, virtue, choiceness, and distinction. Another close friend of mine was so inspired by this principle during his first semester here at the College that he chose to wear a shirt and tie to school every day until he received his bachelor’s degree. He said doing this helped him feel more professional and prepared to learn. Additionally, he said that his teachers would tend to respect and hold him to a higher standard because of his high standard of professional dress.
Consider the following statement from President Henry B. Eyring:
“Outsiders are wrong when they say, ‘I can’t understand your people on your campuses. You care about how your students dress, you care about honor codes, you care about whether your faculty are faithful to the covenants that they made. What’s that got to do with education? How uneducational!’
“Well, they just don’t know what we know. And that is if we can conduct ourselves in such a way that we invite the Spirit of God and we work our hearts out, our students, if they do the same, will learn at rates that the world will just be amazed” (Henry B. Eyring, LDS Business College Employee Address, September 1995).
The reality of this statement happens every day on this campus, even if a student is unaware of it. Perhaps all they notice is they are learning and performing better than they ever have, even if they are not able to pinpoint it on the effects of the Honor Code.
Another student recently shared with me the disappointments she encountered while attending two other institutions of higher learning. The poor choices of those she lived with and attended class with significantly affected the way she learned and performed in college. This finally drove this student to take some time off from school and help support her new little family. But then something changed. She said:
“After a lot of personal and family prayer, I felt that LDS Business College was the right choice. I was immediately impressed when I walked through the doors of this school. Everyone around me was happy. Everyone around me was clean, and everyone had light in their eyes. I knew it was the Honor Code at this school that made the difference. For the first time in my college experience I was able to feel the spirit in an academic setting! This was so impressive. After my first semester's grades came back, I was astonished to see that I had made the Honor Roll and the Dean’s List! Never in my life had I imagined that I was capable of doing this. I know that my success at this school is linked directly to the observance of the Honor Code by both me and those around me. I love the Honor Code and the peace it brings in my academic efforts.”
The Holy Ghost can become your personal tutor when you live in the pursuit of excellence. I remember a day when I sat distracted in a classroom during my last semester of college. For some reason I was pondering about the Honor Code and its affect in my college career. Shortly thereafter, an impression came relating to the subject of the class that was not being addressed by the teacher. I wrote it down. Then another one came. I wrote that down too. This continued for an hour until I had over three pages of notes, custom tailored to me, all relating to the subject but not discussed by the teacher. The best way to describe this experience is in the words of the Prophet Joseph:
“When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas . . . those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus” ( Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 151).
Living in the Service of Others
Living in the service of others means leaving people and places better than when you found them. It is succoring the weak, lifting up the hands that hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees (D&C 81:5). It is being what President Wilford Woodruff longed so much for, to “become a ministering angel in the lives of others as you exercise your faith in working ‘mighty miracles,’ thereby becoming a ‘great benefit’ to your fellow beings” (Spencer J. Condie, “Becoming a Great Benefit to Our Fellow Beings,” April 2002).
It is important to note that the most meaningful service you will provide will likely never be convenient. Other things will always get in the way. These might include your time, desire to sleep, deadline for an assignment, or even a loss of vision that may hinder you from serving the Master. As we serve Him, we love Him more. “For how knoweth a man the mast whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart” (Mosiah 5:13).
A young woman came to my office last semester and reported a dress and grooming violation with another girl in her class. She was genuinely concerned and only wanted to help. I felt impressed to ask if she was comfortable confronting her classmate. I could sense the hesitation in her face, and so I gave a few possible ways to go about speaking to her. A few days later this young woman returned and described how she lovingly approached her classmate and privately shared her concerns. To her surprise, not only did her classmate express appreciation, but the two quickly became friends.
If someone ever confronts you about dress and grooming, please don’t get angry. Would you be irritated if someone told you part of your lunch was still stuck in your teeth, if you needed to blow your nose, or (men) if your tie was suffering from “deaconitis”? I can assure you it is probably much more difficult for the person choosing to speak to you than it is for you to receive what they have to say. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Young or old . . . be grateful for people in your lives who love you enough to correct you, to remind you of your standards and possibilities, even when you don’t want to be reminded” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” April 2004).
One of the most common arguments I have heard in response to Honor Code violations is that a person’s choices are not hurting anyone. I would like to respond to that by illustrating a tragic event that took place on the top of the world in 1996. The two best climbers in the world, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, took a team of mostly inexperienced climbers and claimed to be able to take them to the summit of Mount Everest. The catastrophic portion of this story is that Hall, Fisher, and a handful of others died on this trek.
Many have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what went wrong on this expedition. It seems like one possible conclusion is that it was not one big mistake nor two medium-sized mistakes, but a large portion of small and simple mistakes that overwhelmingly built up. To make matters worse, many of the climbers, even though inexperienced, later noted how they observed bad decisions being made but simply chose not to say anything. How pitiful. Perhaps all that was needed was someone courageous and Christian enough to stand up and say something. Little wonder why President Richards once felt impressed to say, “For some reason, in your generation, ‘narking’ on someone is about the most unethical thing you can do. Often it’s ‘I don’t want to get them in trouble.’ I guarantee you, they’re already in trouble. The question is, are you Christian enough to help them get out of trouble” (On the Lord’s Errand, Jan 12, 2010).
So consider the inward damage of the person who whole-heartedly embraced the standard to live with honor when they met with their bishop and signed their endorsement only to be in a class or hallway when someone else disregards it, or "trample[s] [it] under their feet" (Nephi 19:7) and "set[s] [it] at naught" (Helaman 4:21). Consider the person who stays up all night to complete their portion of a group project only to find out that another group member did a half-hearted effort – if they did it at all. Did the actions of others “hurt” someone else?
My response to this complaint is to ask: what if everyone behaved that way? If that were the case, then this Institution would be no different from any other two-year school in the world. The Honor Code is what separates LDS Business College from all other schools and even the world. It provides students an opportunity to have heaven become intimately involved in their academic and spiritual development because they are not just looking good, but they are being good. Their outward expression reflects their inward commitment, because they are truly living in the service of others.
Some might respond to this argument with the objection, “This is precisely the point: not everyone does do that, so it shouldn’t be much of a concern.” This response is selfish, because it is claiming that someone ought to be an exception to the rule. How unfair to those tithe payers whose contributions are wasted by subsidizing someone’s tuition that disparages what their sacrifice really is willing and able to deliver.
Sometimes the argument of claiming no one has ever said anything to me about this issue, or everyone else is doing it makes it okay for them to have facial hair, holes in their jeans, or something else inappropriate. This is a fallacious response that demonstrates an error in reasoning, because it communicates that two wrongs somehow make a right.
So why should we live with honor? Is it because it is part of a social contract? Is it because of a Kantian perspective that we do the right thing simply because it is the right thing? Is it because of a virtue ethic that promotes acting within some sort of a golden mean? Is it because of a utilitarian objective to do it because it brings about the most good? Is it because it serves as some sort of Leviathan by being a central authority than can catch and punish those who have broken the social contract? These might serve as reasons to live with honor, but they are missing “the mark” because they do not motivate someone to do it, nor do they help someone do it for the right and best reason (Jacob 4:14). Motivation comes from the inside out, not from the outside in. Ultimately, it is the Spirit that works within us (Alma calls this “swelling motions”; Alma 32:28), in which we feel driven to keep the Lord’s commandments, because doing so brings us closer Him. As we draw “near unto to [Him],” He draws near unto us (D&C 88:63). We become fully motivated and committed for the right and best reason – for we are being His “true followers” (Moroni 7:48).
Living with honor is an employable skill marketable in any geographic area, time period, and organization. Just think: how many organizations could have been saved had someone been courageous and Christian enough to blow the whistle when ethics were being compromised or ignored? There would never be a need to impeach government leaders. The Sarbanes Oxley bill would not have been needed as a result of Enron, Tyco International, Adelphia, and others.
As William Shakespeare wrote, “Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done.” (King Richard the Second, act I, sc. i, l. 182.).
As soon as we really understand how dear a price that was paid in the garden and on the cross “to receive what is finally a gift from Him,” living with honor becomes instinctive on our part. (Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All,” 2004) It will serve as our “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24).
My challenge is for all of us to recommit today to live with honor 100% of the time – now and forever. You can do it. You might need to utilize your bishop’s office, because the healing power of the Atonement is there, and certainly you will need the Lord’s help. Don’t be a 95 or even a 99 percenter. Unlike Lehonti, do not come down from the mountain – even just a little bit (Alma 47:10-18).
I promise that as you choose to use your agency to live with honor, Heaven will become intimately involved in the development of your academic and spiritual performance. Additionally, your time here at LDS Business College will become more meaningful, more fun, and more led by Him who leads you by the hand and gives answers to your prayers (D&C 110).
My prayer is if there is ever a moment when our integrity is being challenged on the football field of life, even if it is only by two inches, we, like Brother Maeser, will cry within ourselves, “No. Never! I’d die first!”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.