Friend to Friend:

Do You Think I Can Fit into Your Seat?

By Jeffrey R. Holland

Church Commissioner of Education

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    In many countries of the world this is the time of year when school begins. Have any of you ever said (or thought), “But I don’t want to go to school?” All of us have probably said that at least once.

    I’d like to tell you a true story about a young boy who didn’t have the opportunity of going to school for very long. His father died, leaving little money for the boy’s family. One day the boy became very ill with smallpox and had to miss a lot of school.

    Slowly his health improved, and he was glad to be able to go to school again. But he was back in school for just one year, completing the seventh grade, when he had to stop going altogether. He and his brother then had to find jobs to help earn enough money to buy food and clothing the family needed.

    The boy worked very hard, grew up strong, and learned a lot through his experiences. He read books whenever he could, and was interested in learning the things he had missed by not going to school. Often he would say how sad he was not to have had a formal education. He was a wonderful man and worked hard to develop himself. And he kept hoping that someway he could get back to school again. But he never had that chance. This little boy who grew up wanting to continue his schooling was my father.

    Because of my father’s experience, he was very anxious for me to have a good education. When I’d say, “But I don’t want to go to school,” he’d say, “Then I’ll go in your place. Do you think the teacher would mind? I wonder if I can fit into the seat at your desk?”

    That always made me laugh because I think it would have frightened my teacher to see a grown man coming to school, and I knew he couldn’t fit into the small seat at my desk. So I would go to school.

    Sometimes I’d complain, “My teacher makes me work too hard.” Then Dad would just smile and mess up my hair and say, “I doubt it.” (I’m not sure, but the way he smiled always made me feel as though he wanted that teacher to make me work hard. I never could understand why, for I thought the only good thing about school were the recesses.)

    Later when I had graduated from high school, served a mission, and completed my courses in college, I went on to earn a Ph.D. from a school in New England. (Ph.D. just means you are a doctor that doesn’t give shots or fix broken legs. In fact, I’m not sure Ph.Ds can fix much of anything.)

    When I received my diploma I wanted my father to have it. He had never received a graduation diploma from any school and I thought he deserved this one. I told him that although my name was on it, the diploma should really be awarded to him. I told him they probably just made a mistake in the printing. That made him laugh and then it made him cry. I wasn’t sure then why it made him cry—but I know now.

    My father died last year, and now he is getting more of the education that he always wanted when he was a little boy. And me? Well, my wife and I have children of our own in school. And when they say, “But I don’t want to go to school,” I say, “Then I’ll go in your place. Do you think the teacher would mind? I wonder if I can fit into the seat at your desk?” And when they say, “My teacher makes me work too hard,” I just smile and mess up their hair and say, “I doubt it.”

    Fathers, I guess, are like that. In His own special way, I think Heavenly Father is like that too.

    Have a good year in school and learn all you can. It is going to be important to you for a long, long time. In fact, it will be important forever.

    Illustrated by Jenae Smith