Service and Fulfillment: 2012 Commencement Address
Elder Holland, President Richards, distinguished faculty and administration of the LDS Business College, Distinguished Alumnus Patricia T. Holland, graduates, spouses, parents, and friends—my wife, Kathy, and I thank you for the privilege of accompanying you on this happy occasion. I thank President Richards and the graduate speakers, Debra Hugie and William Widdup, for their remarks. I also thank the Combined Institute Choirs with conductor Craig Allen and organist Linda Margetts for their beautiful and inspiring contribution to these proceedings. Such music is perfectly appropriate on a day when we honor Sister Holland who is herself a talented and accomplished musician and lover of good music, as has been mentioned.
I must make special mention of Linda Margetts who besides accompanying the Choir has played the prelude and Processional March and will play the Recessional as we conclude. She and I are first cousins—her father and my mother are brother and sister—and we share the same birth day, although not the same birth year. She came along a few years later than I—I’m sure she would want me to mention that. I have always been proud of Linda for the wonderful person she is and for her exceptional musical talent. I hope that a little of her glory reflects onto me.
Sister Holland, may I add a personal word of congratulations on the recognition that has come to you today. Kathy and I were part of your fan club well before we became personally acquainted with you. Through the years we have benefitted from your wisdom and insights and friendship. As President Richards has expressed, your life has been a shining example for both men and women. You bring honor to LDS Business College, to the Church and your family, to womanhood, and certainly to that fellow who hangs around with you so much. Elder Holland, beloved and admired friend, you are a very blessed man.
Somewhere in the past, a soul who had endured perhaps one too many graduation ceremonies, penned these lines:
The month of June approaches, and soon across the land,
The graduation speakers will tell us where we stand.
We stand at Armageddon, in the vanguard of the press.
We are standing at the crossroads, the gateway to success.
We stand upon the threshold of careers all brightly lit.
And in the midst of all this standing, we sit and sit and sit.
(Oh, My Aching Baccalaureate, Jaurence Eisenlohr, June 1957)
Having had this experience more than once myself, and therefore being sympathetic to your suffering, I will take my cue from an aged grandfather who was called on to speak at a church gathering. Some felt that with his many years, he wouldn’t know when to stop talking and they were reluctant to ask him. They finally decided, however, that they could not in good conscience ignore him, so they invited him to stand and tell them in just a word how they could live to be as old as he was and still be of service. So he got up and said, “Keep breathing.” While I may not be quite that brief, I would like to say something to you about being of service, and as I do, I urge you to keep breathing.
I would ask you graduates to consider for a moment the reasons you have worked and sacrificed to obtain the degree you receive today. I’m sure there are a variety of motivations that have led you to this moment, but speaking generally one common motivation was likely to gain the ability to earn a living either now or potentially in the future. Most, if not all of you, surely expected that improving your knowledge and skills at LDS Business College would translate into a good job or a better job, a steady income or a better income. There is certainly nothing wrong with that objective. Another motivation shared by many was probably to develop your talents and thereby become a better, more complete person. Surely this sort of self-fulfillment has much to recommend it. Perhaps there were other motivations a little less noble, such as simply wanting to get out of your parents’ house.
Among all of the possible, worthy purposes for education and training, I hope you have either come with or developed since being here one desire above all others, and that is to build your capacity to serve your fellowman. A desire to serve born of appreciation, respect, and love for others will provide the fulfillment you seek. The central place that service ought to occupy in our lives was explained by Marion G. Romney, a former member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said:
“It has always seemed paradoxical to me that we must constantly have the Lord command us to do those things that are for our own good. The Lord has said, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:39). We lose our life by serving and lifting others. By so doing we experience the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made. Knowing that service is what gives our Father in Heaven fulfillment, and knowing that we want to be where He is and as He is, why must we be commanded to serve one another? Oh, for that glorious day when these things all come naturally because of the purity of our hearts. In that day there will be no need for a commandment because we will have experienced for ourselves that we are truly happy only when we are engaged in unselfish service.” [i]
In addition to true fulfillment and happiness, a devotion to service will give balance to your life. If there is ever-present in your soul a desire to be of service, it will keep other virtuous motivations from becoming vices, as sometimes happens. For example, in some people the desire to make a comfortable living for themselves and their family has evolved over time into greed, and that greed when unchecked has manifested itself in unethical, even criminal conduct. Motivation toward self-improvement or self-fulfillment if taken to the extreme can morph into selfishness and narcissism. Service will be your antidote against selfishness and the sense of entitlement that more and more afflict societies around the world. The desire to serve people will act as a governor over other motivations keeping those that are good in their proper channel and eliminating those that are unworthy. Your service will bless others, but it will also protect you.
A good example of service balancing one’s life was cited by President Thomas S. Monson in a General Conference address in October 2009; quoting President Monson:
[Dr. Jack McConnell] grew up in the hills of southwest Virginia in the United States as one of seven children of a Methodist minister and a stay-at-home mother. Their circumstances were very humble. He recounted that during his childhood, every day as the family sat around the dinner table, his father would ask each one in turn, “And what did you do for someone today?” (Jack McConnell, “And What Did You Do for Someone Today?” Newsweek, June 18, 2001, 13). The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Dr. McConnell calls this exercise his father’s most valuable legacy, for that expectation and those words inspired him and his siblings to help others throughout their lives. As they grew and matured, their motivation for providing service changed to an inner desire to help others.
Besides Dr. McConnell’s distinguished medical career—where he directed the development of the tuberculosis tine test, participated in the early development of the polio vaccine, supervised the development of Tylenol, and was instrumental in developing the magnetic resonance imaging procedure, or MRI—he created an organization he calls Volunteers in Medicine, which gives retired medical personnel a chance to volunteer at free clinics serving the working uninsured. Dr. McConnell said his leisure time since he retired has “evaporated into 60-hour weeks of unpaid work, but [his] energy level has increased and there is a satisfaction in [his] life that wasn’t there before.” He made this statement: “In one of those paradoxes of life, I have benefited more from Volunteers in Medicine than my patients have.” (Jack McConnell, “And What Did You Do for Someone Today?” 13). There are now over 70 such clinics across the United States. [ii]
Service finds its greatest expression in the creation of home and family. I hope, I pray that each of you will have the blessing of marriage and family during your time on earth. If that privilege is delayed for you until the next stage of existence, I hope you will still have a comparable experience now serving that family in which you are a son or daughter, brother or sister, uncle, aunt, or dear friend. Success at home will require the best of your talents, including all you have gained at LDS Business College and more, yet it will be the most rewarding.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has stated, “A familiar example of losing ourselves in the service of others . . . is the sacrifice parents make for their children. Mothers suffer pain and loss of personal priorities and comforts to bear and rear each child. Fathers adjust their lives and priorities to support a family. The gap between those who are and those who are not willing to do this is widening in today’s world. One of our family members recently overheard a young couple on an airline flight explaining that they chose to have a dog instead of children. ‘Dogs are less trouble,’ they declared. ‘Dogs don’t talk back, and we never have to ground them.’” [iii] Personally, I would have to agree with this couple’s statement—dogs are less trouble—but I grieve for what they will miss by their choice.
Back in the 1930s, a small college in Ohio, the Western College for Women, awarded an honorary doctor of laws to a 74-year-old woman, “for outstanding achievement as wife and mother of Comptons.” Otelia Compton and her husband Elias who later became a college professor, both grew up on farms and taught school, but as one reporter said, “there was no reason to predict that the union of two country school teachers would produce a page in ‘Who’s Who [in America].’” Of their four children, Karl became a distinguished physicist and president of MIT; Mary became the principal of a missionary school in India and the wife of its president; Wilson was a noted economist and head of the U.S. Lumber Manufacturers Association; and the baby, Arthur, won the Nobel Prize in Physics.
The reporter continued:
[Otelia Compton] may disclaim her expertness, but her record is against her. There are her four children, with their total of thirty-one college and university degrees and their memberships in thirty-nine learned societies. They didn’t just grow. In addition, there are the hundreds of boys and girls whose lives [she] shaped during the thirty-five years she spent directing the Presbyterian Church’s two homes for the children of its missionaries. Cornered in her kitchen, the mother of Comptons simply had to admit that she knows something about motherhood. Her recipe is so old it is new, so orthodox it is radical, so common-place that we have forgotten it and it startles us. “We used the Bible and common sense,” she told me. [iv]
Speaking of parents’ responsibility to invest in their children, Otelia added: “Mother and father cannot retain their influence over their children if their children’s life is foreign to them. And it isn’t enough to encourage the child; the parents must participate in his interest. They must work with him, and if his interest turns out to be something about which they know nothing it is their business to educate themselves. If they don’t the child will discover their ignorance and lose respect for them.”
“The mother or father who laughs at a youngster’s ‘foolish’ ideas forgets that those ideas are not foolish to the child. When Arthur [the Nobel Prize winner] was 10 years old he wrote an essay taking issue with other experts on why some elephants were three-toed and others five-toed. He brought it to me to read, and I had a hard time keeping from laughing. But I knew how seriously he took his ideas, so I sat down and worked on them with him.” [v]
It’s not hard to see the parallels with today’s honoree, Sister Pat Holland, who has demonstrated outstanding achievement “as a wife and mother of Hollands.” Clearly she had some good material to work with, but still it is quite remarkable what she has made of her husband and her three children who have already distinguished themselves in the field of education. In a recent interview with Louise Brown, LDS Business College Public Relations Director, Pat said, “Our primary responsibility on this earth is to marry and have children. My father was a patriarch; he was a spiritually visionary man. He said to me once, ‘You’ll have eons of time to work with your music.’ I can’t believe we’d be blessed with certain talents that will never be fulfilled because of the temporality of this world. . . . I know we will have opportunities to develop our talents, whether here or later on.”
Remember that even when it involves sacrifice or menial tasks that some would see as drudgery, service is not servility. All service, great or small is ennobling and worthwhile. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an icon of selfless service, said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” [vi] Yet service that is less than we are realistically able to give will not produce the growth you and I need to become what we can become, or provide for those we serve the help they may require to reach their full potential. I hope that you will both freely give and gratefully receive acts of service throughout your lives.
[i] Marion G. Romney, “The Celestial Nature of Self Reliance,” Ensign, November 1982, 93.
[ii] Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?” Ensign, November 2009, 84-85.
[iii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” Ensign, May 2009, 93.
[iv] Milton S. Mayer, “Mother of Comptons,” in Bruce B. Clark and Robert K. Thomas, Out of the Best Books, vol. 5, , 199.
[v] Out of the Best Books, 201.
[vi] Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Life in the Spirit, ed. Kathryn Spink , 45.