L. Tom Perry, “What a Way to Grow,” New Era, Aug 1998, 4
Adapted from an October 1997 general conference address.
Put down roots in seminary and institute, nurture your testimony and gospel knowledge, and you’ll reap a great harvest.
Many years ago I had the privilege of teaching early-morning seminary. The class was held between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. each school day. For two years I watched sleepy students stumble into class, challenging their instructor to wake them up. After prayer was offered and an inspirational thought given, I watched bright minds come alive, to increase their knowledge of the scriptures. The most difficult part of the class was to terminate the discussion in time to send them on to their regular high school classes. As the school year progressed, I watched each student gain greater confidence, closer friendships, and a growing testimony of the gospel.
A few years ago I was in a grocery store near Salt Lake City when I heard someone call out my name. I turned to greet two of my former seminary students. They were now husband and wife. They introduced me to their four beautiful children. As we visited I was amazed with the number of seminary classmates they still had contact with after all these years. It was an evidence of a special bonding that had occurred in that very early-morning seminary class.
As we parted, a scripture came into my mind: “I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me” (D&C 93:45). There is a special strength we gain from associations with each other, especially in gospel settings.
“Today is the happiest morning in this year. Today is the first [day of] morning seminary,” wrote a Church member in Russia. “How and when [did this thought] originate about daily morning seminary? I remember there was a lesson for our CES teachers that mentioned about the daily seminary program in the United States and Europe and that got stuck in my mind. At that lesson I felt the power of the Holy Ghost which brought a thought unto me that we should have seminary here. Then I felt that the Lord endows everything for this job: possibility, strength and help. We have to have just willingness to accept such a gift.
“After that meeting I felt great inspiration. Some mothers got frightened a little with the idea because children will have to get up early in the morning and in school, they are overloaded, and some finish the school this year and will be entering higher educational institutions. But fathers, who have the priesthood, completely supported me, having said that daily studying of the scriptures is so needed for youth, will teach them discipline, and also will help them gain the Holy Ghost which during the day time and school lessons will help to withstand the temptations of Satan” (comments from Maria Rupysheva, Vyborg, Russia, fall 1996).
This testimony, and so many others we have received from the four corners of the earth, helps us to catch the spirit of two great programs—seminary and institute. They offer a special paved road that will lead you to life eternal, which is the greatest gift God has given to His children.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said this about our seminary and institute programs:
“Take advantage of every opportunity to enlarge your understanding of the gospel. Make the effort to participate in seminary and institute programs” (Ensign, May 1982, 42).
“We urge all for whom it is available to take advantage of it. We do not hesitate to promise that your knowledge of the gospel will be increased, your faith will be strengthened, and you will develop wonderful associations and friendships” (Ensign, May 1984, 47).
During the early history of the Church, elementary and secondary schools were established. A university was opened in the Nauvoo period. Three years after the Saints arrived in Utah, the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) was opened.
As the increased numbers of LDS youth began attending public secondary schools, it became apparent to Church leaders that there was a need to provide religious curriculum to complement the students’ regular secular studies. In 1912 the Church began building seminaries on Church-owned properties adjacent to public high schools, where students could take daily classes in religion.
We learn of the dedication which was given to the seminary program in its very beginning by reading from a diary of John M. Whitaker, one of the early instructors at the first seminary instituted by the Church. In April of 1915 he was employed in the Granite High School Seminary with a salary of $1,500 per year. He found little to work with as he assumed his new position. His diary records:
“I had to start without the least scratch, or outline, and I thought out many approaches to the new problem before me. I had taught several years at the University of Deseret. But there I knew my course well, … to commence a course now, where here-to-fore the Bible alone had been the guide, and to meet the need of the … students … with strict outlines and supervision, … coming from the discipline of high school requirements, into religion classwork where they could come if they desired or remain away, … was a task too great to undertake alone. So I did as I have always done when presented with a task, went in humility and prayer to my Father in Heaven and in my simplicity told him my problem and asked for inspiration, guidance, wisdom and courage . … I was unknown to most of the Faculty and students … and so during the summer I thought out how best to make a beginning.”
He looked forward to registration day, on September 3, 1915. A crowd of students was on hand, and his journal entry describes the event: “Commenced a very important period of my life and one that will, I am sure affect the destiny of thousands of the youth of Zion, if the plans maturing in my mind blossom into fruition.”
His diary records events step-by-step which led to the tremendous success he had in carrying forward this program over the years.
The late S. Dilworth Young, of the Seventy, was one of Brother Whitaker’s earliest seminary students.
He said: “I should like to make a short tribute to Brother Whitaker. He likely did not know the profound influence he had upon me as a boy. … I look back upon it now, realizing that there was where I got my first detailed knowledge of the standard works. Could I have enough influence I would see to it that every boy and every girl in the Church had a like experience under a man of faith” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 80).
The service of John M. Whitaker is an example of thousands of instructors who over the years have devoted their lives to building testimonies in young people in seminary classes.
To facilitate religious training of students attending non-LDS colleges and universities, the Church established institutes of religion adjacent to college campuses, beginning in 1926. The success of the seminaries and institutes resulted in the spread of these programs to many, many parts of the world.
The Church periodically measures the progress of the institute programs. This last year an institute study revealed the following: of those graduating from institute, 96 percent received temple endowments; 98 percent of those receiving their endowments had their marriages performed in the temple; 96 percent of the men graduating from institute served missions.
I would like to add my testimony to that of our great prophet-leader, President Hinckley. I know the power that comes from associations in the seminary and institute programs. It has enriched my life, and I know it will do the same for you. It will put a shield of protection around you to keep you free from the temptations and trials of the world. There is a great blessing in having a knowledge of the gospel. And I know of no better place for the young people of the Church to gain a special knowledge of sacred things than in the institute and seminary programs of the Church.
Plan on completing the full four years of seminary. Seminary and institute are available for students and nonstudents between the ages of 18 and 30. Are you enrolled? If not, I invite you to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. And to you who are enrolled, study diligently to learn the gospel. I promise you that the foundation you receive in these two great programs will bless you throughout your lives.
[photos] Photography by Tamra Hamblin. Photo illustration by Scott Welty.^ Back to top