Ensign College Devotional
Brother McGettigan married Jana Wright in the Salt Lake Temple, and they are the parents of seven children and eight grandchildren. They are members of the Thanksgiving Village Ward in Lehi where Brother McGettigan serves as the Primary Music Leader. Former positions include: Elders Quorum President, High Counselor, and Gospel Doctrine Instructor.
Desire to Learn, Work with Diligence, Learn with Faith, Go Forth to Serve
I feel so blessed by our Heavenly Father to be here with you today. I pray that the Spirit of the Lord will abide here at this time, that we may each receive the message the Lord would have us hear this day.
I feel that I was led here in 1988, and that I have been led to remain here every year since. It seems that nearly everyone enrolled or employed at Ensign College has been led here by the hand of the Lord.
I love the mission of the College. “… to develop capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ”. It has been wonderful to come to work each day and be part of such a high and holy purpose. I’ve loved being a part of this high and holy purpose.
In 2005, during a visit to the College, President Hinckley said, “I hope that we put through this school a student body of young people who have a great desire to learn and make a contribution to the world; that they will work with diligence and learn with faith and go forth to serve the world and their fellow man well qualified in their particular field of expertise”.
In 2009, then President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor to President Thomas S. Monson said,
“Our doctrine makes clear that our potential is only limited by our choices. We not only believe that God is our Father and that we can become like Him, but we expect it to happen. I have seen that optimism as a mark of this institution. Students who think they have limited potential come to recognize that they have found hope, where they thought they could not hope, and can dream dreams they had thought were impossible.”
Students who “desire to learn, work with diligence, learn with faith, and go forth to serve” - that culture continues to be part of Ensign College. The optimism of students who find “hope, where they thought they could not hope, and dream dreams they thought were impossible” has always been an important hall mark of Ensign College. This is what I love about Ensign College.
When I was a freshman at BYU, I was not prepared for the academic rigor associated with BYU. I got in to BYU with an athletic scholarship in gymnastic. For me, college was primarily a means to continue competing in gymnastics. I did not do very well academically, and after several semesters I dropped out. I returned home, and went to work in the construction industry as a laborer. It was winter time, and it was cold.
After a year, I returned to BYU. I knew that I would need to obtain an education in order to provide for the family I would one day have. I also knew that returning to school would be difficult - I still lacked the appropriate academic foundation. But I felt that it was the right thing for me to do. I asked the Lord to help me, and He did.
I followed a pattern of behavior that was reflective of the culture here at Ensign College – I had a great desire to learn, I worked with diligence, I learned with faith, and I had a desire to go forth to serve.
I had heard that for every hour of time in class, the average student should need to spend two hours outside of class. But when I first returned to college, I had a lot to learn, and I found that I needed to spend three or more hours outside of class for every one hour in class. The Lord blessed my efforts. Over time, and with the Lord’s help, I learned how to learn. I went from getting low Cs to getting As and Bs, and I successfully completed my degree. Years later I returned to BYU and received a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and even graduated with distinction.
I’m telling you this story because sometimes, when we face failures, challenges, and setbacks, we mistakenly take it as a sign that we are pursuing the wrong goal or that we are incapable of achieving it. Last year, during the pandemic while I was working from home I would sometimes go out and ride my bike along the Jordan River in order to get some exercise. I had an accident in which I broke my collar bone in three places. This was a setback, it was not a sign that I shouldn’t be exercising or riding my bike. I understand that circumstance do change and that the Lord often changes or corrects our direction, but failures, challenges, and setbacks are a part of life. If we respond with faith the Lord will consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins said, “Mistakes are a fact of life. Learning to skillfully play the piano is essentially impossible without making thousands of mistakes—maybe even a million. To learn a foreign language, one must face the embarrassment of making thousands of mistakes—maybe even a million. Even the world’s greatest athletes never stop making mistakes.
“Success,” it has been said, “isn’t the absence of failure, but going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.”
With his invention of the light bulb, Thomas Edison purportedly said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Charles F. Kettering called failures “finger posts on the road to achievement.” Hopefully, each mistake we make becomes a lesson in wisdom, turning stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.
Nephi’s unwavering faith helped him go from failure to failure until he finally obtained the brass plates. It took Moses 10 attempts before he finally found success in fleeing Egypt with the Israelites”. (Elder Lynn G. Robbins, April 2018 General Conference, “Until Seventy Times Seven”)
Mirrored Star Sketch
The Mirrored Star Sketch Experiment renders an interesting study on human nature and learning curves.
In this experiment, participants are given sheets of paper with a drawing of two stars, one within the other. They are directed to trace a third star in between these lines. The challenge is that as they draw the star they will not be allowed to see their hand or the paper directly, but only as a reflection in a mirror. They are to complete as many stars as possible within a 5-minute period, and only those sketches which do not touch the lines will be counted.
Participants will complete four rounds; thus, they will have the opportunity to improve their performance in each subsequent round. Before the start of each round, participants are asked to estimate how many sketches they think they will be able to complete in each of the remaining rounds.
This chart (shown in video) illustrates the typical outcome from this experiment. Let’s look at how well the participants did in each round, and how their Estimates compared with the Actual Performance.
The Vertical Access shows the number of Sketches Completed in each round. The Horizontal Access shows each of the four rounds.
It’s important to note that the participants in this experiment were paid for the quality of their performance. The more stars they completed, the more money they received. They were also paid for the accuracy of their estimates. Thus, they were motivated to do their best.
Prior to the beginning of the experiment, participants were asked to estimate how many stars they think they would complete in each of the four rounds. The red line labeled “Preliminary Estimate”, is their estimate prior to having any experience performing the task.
Participants were then given a two minute trial run of the experiment, to gain a little experience of what the task will be like.
After making the trial run, but prior to performing the first round, participants were again asked to estimate how many stars they think they will complete in each round. This is the bottom green line labeled “Estimate 1”, it is the estimate made after the trial run, but before the 1st round.
The blue line represents the “Actual Performance” of each round.
The green lines represent the Participants’ Estimates 1, 2, 3, and 4, just prior to each round.
The mirrored star sketch experiment is illustrative of any skilled activity that is new to the participants. It could be snowboarding, roller blading, or anything else.
Compare the blue “Actual Performance” line with the red “Preliminary Estimate” line. The slope of these lines represents the rate of learning. The slope of the blue “Actual Performance” line is much steeper than the slope of the red “Preliminary Estimate” line. This is because people tend to learn and improve at a faster rate than they expect.
Look at how the blue Actual Performance line starts lower and ends much higher than the Preliminary Estimate red line. This is because people tend to over-estimate their existing skill and under-estimate their potential for growth.
Finally, compare the red Preliminary Estimate line with the green Estimate 1 line. The red line is the estimate prior to the two-minute trial run, and the green line is the estimate after trial run. The trial run experience reveals to the participants their lack of existing skill, and so they respond by lowering their estimate to the green Estimate 1 line. But they retain the same slope, because they continue to under estimate their potential for growth.
From these and other experiences I have learned that we, as children of a loving Heavenly Father, have been endowed with power from on high to learn and grow, to change and become better. Change and improvement are at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As President Eyring said, “We not only believe that … but we expect it to happen”.
President Heber J. Grant was fond of saying, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not because the nature of the task has changed, but our capacity to do has increased”.
I did poorly in college during my first attempt, primarily because I did not have a genuine desire. But that changed when I returned to school. I knew then that the Lord had a plan for me. I knew that plan included being successful in college, and I was committed to doing my very best. Striving to do one’s best is foundational to learning.
Thoughts About Learning
In the Pearl of Great Price, we read … “The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceeding high mountain. And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; … And, behold, thou art my son; … And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all. (Moses 1:1-6)
You are son or daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves you completely. You may not know the career path you will ultimately follow, you may not have decided on a major, but when you understand who you are, when you understand whose you are, and that God has a plan for you - that knowledge, that light will lead you and guide you.
You have been endowed with the Holy Ghost, you are empowered to complete all that God has in store for you. God has a work for you to do, which only you can discover. If you will diligently and faithfully seek Him, the Lord will make you equal to your task. Ensign College offers you an environment where this can happen. Take full advantage of this while you are here. It is an important stepping stone in your lifelong effort of fulfilling God’s purpose for you.
Take charge of your learning. Learning is a personal decision. Nobody else can learn for you - just like nobody else can exercise for you, diet for you, or sleep for you. You have to learn for yourself.
Engage deeply. Immerse yourself completely into the learning process. Don’t wade in, dive in. Be deliberate, and focused, with your effort. Your depth of engagement will quicken your understanding and your ability to access and apply what you’ve learned.
You may not know today what skills you will need for the future, so “getting all the education you can” is a wise thing to do. What you’re learning today is in preparation for your service tomorrow. Understanding this will empower you by deepening your engagement in the learning process.
When Nephi was a youth, living in Jerusalem, it appears that he had been studying metallurgy. This is evidenced by Nephi’s detailed description of the sword of Laban, and that Nephi’s bow was made of steel, while his brothers’ bows were made of wood, and that when he was commanded to build a ship he did not ask the lord how to make tools, but only where he should go to find ore. It is doubtful that Nephi had any idea while he was living in Jerusalem that he would later use this skill to build a boat, to make swords to defend his people, and to make metal plates for their records.
The Lord said, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly … in all things … both in heaven and in the earth … That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. (D&C 88:78-80)
Studying because you want to learn is always more effective and more enjoyable than studying because you have to learn it. When I see children at the skate park trying to learn tricks on their skateboards, I wonder how their lives might be different if they had that same level of deliberate, focused, effort for their academic learning.
I know that grades are important, but when you study, let your focus be on learning, not on getting a grade, it will make your learning more effective. Then, when it comes time to deliver on a test or on an assignment, then focus on the grade.
Make a commitment to always come to class prepared and to turn in every assignment on time. When you’re prepared for class you make the learning experience more effective for you and for the rest of the class. College classes move quickly and if you fall behind, it is very difficult to catch up. Do what you need to do, when you need to do it, whether or not it is convenient in order to stay on top of the learning. Start assignments early, don’t wait until they are nearly due. When something is hard don’t abandon it for later, drill down on it now. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Learn how to learn. Discover your own learning style and techniques. Utilize every resource available to you - visit the Student Success Center on the 9th floor. Consider organizing a study group. One of the best resources in college is your association with other students, and the opportunity to “teach one another”.
Learning how to learn is foundational to all other learning. When I higher someone I always look for a flexible learner, someone who knows how to learn. Regardless of whatever knowledge they already have, they will still need to learn what we do here in our office, and they will need to be able to adapt to whatever changes may be forthcoming. Regardless of the field of study you are in today, it will certainly be changing. Of all the skills you learn at school, perhaps learning how to learn is the most important.
I’m sure that you’ve already developed many of your own methods and techniques for learning, and that you’ve made considerable progress in developing your talents. Probably more than you realize. And that pleases the Lord.
Three Image Test
I’d like to conduct an experiment with you right now. I’m going to show you three different images (shown in video), one at a time. I’ll show you the image for a few seconds, then I’ll take it away, then you try to draw it as best you can. This will go fairly quickly. If you don’t want to actually draw the image that’s okay, just try and imagine what you would draw.
Okay. Image number 1. … I know it’s confusing. But do the best you can to remember as much as you can. …Time. Okay. Now try to draw as much of that as you can. How much are you able to remember? I’m just glad I don’t have to do this.
Okay. Image number 2. Try to remember as much as you can, as quickly as you can. You only have a few seconds. … Time. Okay. Now try to write down as much as you can remember. … You can probably remember more this time than last time….
Okay, are you ready for Image number 3? Try to remember as much as you can. You only have a few seconds more. Time. Okay, write it down.
I didn’t tell you before, but this is a genius test. How did you do?
Look closely at these images and compare them. Each of these three images has the same, exact characters. They’re just organized differently on each image. In image #2 I took the letters from image #3 and rearranged them into a different sequence. In image #1 I took all the letters and cut them into pieces and then stuck them back together randomly. The reason you are able to comprehend and recall the 3rd image, and to a lesser degree the 2nd image is because you are able to relate these images with what you already know.
There was a study done a few years ago with chess players. Some Expert level chess players said that they could visualize chess positions when they played chess games without a visual chess board, something they called “blind chess”. This would imply that some individuals have something like a photographic memory, making them different from most adults.
They conducted an experiment, similar to what we just did. After just a few seconds of viewing a chess board of a game in progress, the best chess players could reproduce all the locations of all the chess pieces almost perfectly. Weaker chess players’ memory was much worse.
However, when these same players were presented with chess pieces just randomly arranged on the chess board, their memory of these scrambled position was uniformly poor. This means that the expert chess players’ ability to remember chess patterns was based on their developed skill to perceive meaningful patterns and relations among chess pieces, and not because they had an innate superior memory. (American Psychologist, August 1994, P. 734-735)
Learning builds upon learning. Knowledge builds upon knowledge. Skill builds upon skill. It compounds. “For God will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12)
Picture in your mind a ball. This is how I do a popcorn ball when I lead music in primary. The area inside the ball is your existing skill, talent and knowledge - what you have already learned. All the space outside the ball is what you don’t know or have not yet learned. The surface of the ball is where your new learning and growth takes place. As learning takes place and you increase in knowledge, the ball gets bigger. And as that happens, learning and growth happens at a faster rate. That’s because there is a larger foundation on which to connect new knowledge.
“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” D&C 130:18-19
The same is true in your classes. Every student comes to class with a different background and a different level of preparation. Whatever experiences you’ve had in the past, and whatever knowledge and skill you’ve had leading up to today that is what you bring as a foundation to learning in each class. We often refer to this as talent.
Some students may be marginally prepared for the class with only a weak understanding of the prerequisites. Others may be well founded and already know much about the course material. But everyone in the class is going to follow the same curriculum, and at the same rate, and using the same grading criteria. This is another reason why you need to take charge of your own education.
Brothers and Sisters, our Heavenly Father loves us so much. He has given us the ability and opportunity to grow and improve in so many ways.
He could have blessed us with many different things, and he has. But he has chosen the better part. He has paved the way for us to inherit all that he has, even immortality and eternal life, because he wants us to live forever in the happiest state possible. Such a gift was very dear, for it required the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.
We praise Him and we thank Him. We are so blessed because we have this knowledge and because we have His redeeming grace to assist us and guide us all along the way. And we have the sacred opportunity to participate in His great work. Brothers and Sister’s while we are here at Ensign College, and after we leave, may we desire to learn, and to learn with faith, and to work with diligence that we may better serve Him, that we may become like Him. In the holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.