This message is adapted from a talk given by Elder Packer at the baccalaureate service for Utah State University on June 8, 1973. The full text of this talk may be found in the September issue of the Ensign.
What Every Freshman Should Know03283_000_003
I suppose my talk might be entitled, “What Every Freshman Should Know.” It may seem backward to be telling you now, as graduates, but perhaps it will test you to see if you know, as seniors, what a freshman should know. And, with this commencement you become freshmen in life.
You came to college basically to gain an occupation, and likely you have earned it. But as always, there was a price, and occasionally we pay an exorbitant price. Not infrequently at college a student will jettison things essential to life and end up well-occupied but unhappy.
Did you come as a freshman with idealism, and put it aside?
Did you come with faith, and carry away in its place skepticism?
Did you come with patriotism, and replace it with cynicism?
Did you come free from any binding habits, and leave with an addiction?
Did you arrive aspiring for marriage, home, and a family, and now have abandoned those aspirations?
And critically important, did you come with virtue and moral purity, and now must admit to yourself that while you were here you have lost them?
How did this happen? Was that an essential price to pay for an occupation or for broadened cultural horizons? The intangibles you carry away may not equal in value the intangibles you may be leaving behind.
If they are gone now, do you know how it happened? Did you give them up willingly? Did you set them aside, or were they taken from you? Have you been the victim of an academic confidence game?
The large body of university professors in America represent the finest standard of our civilization. However, some few professors (thank the Lord at this school there are but a few) delight in relieving the student of basic spiritual values. Across our land at the universities, more and more of the faculty members look forward to the coming of a new crop of green freshmen with a compulsive desire to “educate” them.
During my term as mission president in New England I was responsible for the Joseph Smith Memorial in Vermont. The visitor’s center, with its lawn and gardens, is surrounded by woods.
A doe took up residence there and each spring brought twin fawns onto the lawn. They were tame enough that the caretaker, on occasion, could pick them up.
One fall a bow hunter came into the grounds and killed a half-grown fawn with an arrow. The unsuspecting animal stood watching a few feet away, interested in whatever it was he was doing.
There is no way that man could be classed as a sportsman or even a hunter. “Like shooting fish in a bucket” is the expression.
No doubt both the trophy and the hunt became exaggerated in the conversation of the man, but there is no way his contemptible deed could give him any sense of achievement.
Each year many fall victim in the colleges and universities of our country. There, as captive audiences, their faith, their patriotism, and their morality are lined up against a wall and riddled by words shot from the mouths of irreverent professors.
I hope that while you were taking courses you found time enough after the study of your subject to study the professors. One may well learn more from studying the professor than studying the subject.
Be assured that one who strives to widen the breadth of accepted moral conduct does so to condone what he is doing. Not infrequently you will find him unworthy. If he derides spiritual development, it can generally be concluded that he has failed in the subject. He defends himself by declaring it an unnecessary discipline. He is the one to ridicule faith and humility, to smile in contempt when anyone mentions virtue, or reverence, or dedication, or morality.
Let me give you a clue. There is something very interesting about a person who is anxious to forsake the standards of his church, particularly if he leaves them and encourages others to do likewise.
Have you ever wondered what it means when he can leave it, but he cannot leave it alone? Normal behavior would have him cancel his affiliation in the church and let that be that. Not so with this individual. He can leave it, but he cannot leave it alone. He becomes consumed with it and obsessed with it. That says something about him.
And one might ask, Is he talking to the student, or to himself? You might ask also, and he might ask himself: Is he happy, really happy?
Let me alert you to one other thing.
The professor who is “up-tight” about the subject of religion, the one who can’t, just positively can’t seem to conduct a class without tossing a barb or two at the church, belittling the minister, the rabbi, the priest, the bishop, or the stake president, or at the standards they teach—he is not the major source of concern. His bald-faced brand of prejudice is obvious even to the unwary student. Even the freshman fawn will move aside when he strings his bow.
But there is another that I would like to describe to you. I can best make the point by referring to Shakespeare’s Othello.
Othello claimed the two desires of his life. He became the general—he had arrived at the top—and he won the hand of the lovely Desdemona. Two other characters in the play complete the main cast: Cassio, his trusted lieutenant, and Iago, conspiring and jealous.
Two things Iago wanted in life—to be general and to have Desdemona. Othello had them both.
Motivated by malignant jealousy, he set out to destroy Othello—never openly, always careful and clever. He does not, in the play, tell an open, bald-faced lie. He works by innuendo and suggestion.
“Where is Desdemona tonight?” he would ask.
“Oh, she has gone to Relief Society,” Othello would answer.
“Oh, has she?” Iago would question.
It was not the words—on paper they are a harmless inquiry—but the inflection made them contagious with suspicion.
On one occasion Cassio came to Othello’s home with a message. After a conversation with Desdemona he left to attend to other matters. As he was leaving the home, Othello and Iago approached.
Iago perverted an innocent situation with his comment, “I cannot think it that he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming.”
And so it unfolds. Nothing to incriminate Iago, so innocent was he. Just a sly reference, a gesture, an inflection, the emphasis on the word or the sentence.
Othello is finally convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful and determines to destroy her. The tragedy finally concludes with Othello threatening his innocent wife. She pleads for a week, for a day. Her final plea: “But while I say one prayer.” But he denies her that. How terrible the tragedy of her death when he then finds proof of her innocence.
You may meet an Iago one day. Through innuendo and sly remarks, through an inflection or a question, in mock innocence he might persuade you to kill your faith, to throttle your patriotism, to tamper with drugs, to abandon morality and chastity and virtue. If you do, you have an awakening as terribly tragic as that of Othello.
This is the man that ridicules belief in a hereafter and says there is no such thing as God. He’d better hope he is right. For if, as some of us know, the opposite is true, the final scene will be his, and justice more than poetic and penalties adequate in every way will be exacted from him.
Ultimately we are punished quite as much by our sins as we are for them.
You have completed your studies at an American university. Here, theory has it, learning may be pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom. Freedom, one might ask, for whom? Some interesting changes have occurred in the past generation.
Some years ago a plaintiff prospered in her grievance concerning the saying of prayers in public schools. The practice was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The decision was partial. The effect was to offer great encouragement to those who would erase from our society every trace of reference to the Almighty.
She wanted to protect her son from any contact with religion. Her son is protected from my type of religion—my son is exposed to hers.
There is a crying need for the identification of atheism for what it is, and that is, a religion—albeit a negative one, nevertheless it is a religious expression. It is the one extreme end of the spectrum of thought concerning the causation of things.
Those who are spiritually sensitive recognize God as the cause, a living being who rules in the affairs of man. The so-called atheist declares that God is not. Not just that He isn’t the cause of things, but that He indeed is not.
We put sunshine and rain under the heading of weather. It would be a little ridiculous to talk about clear weather and cloudy and claim that the two are not related and could not be considered as part of the same discipline.
When you leave the university and go on to further studies in life, Iago will be there—perhaps not under the title of professor, but he will be clamoring for your attention. It will be interesting for you to see what he will do, subtly, to destroy your faith.
You will have an invitation to compromise your integrity for position, political preference, or for money. You have been tested in college, and I’m sure you have seen a student or two used up. So you will see many consumed in society by those proselyting for others to join them in their unhappiness.
Remember, there are some rights and wrongs. We must come to understand that there are basic truths and basic principles, basic conformities necessary to achieve happiness. There are some things that are false, that are wrong. We cannot be happy and at once be wicked. Never, regardless of how generally accepted that course may be.
If it were printed in every book, run on every news press, set forth in every magazine; if it were broadcast on every frequency, televised from every station, declared from every pulpit, taught in every classroom, advocated in every conversation, still it would be wrong. Wickedness never was happiness, neither indeed can it be, neither indeed ever will it be.
I declare in favor of full academic freedom. If prayer is to leave our schools, let the ridicule of prayer leave also. I speak for humility, for faith, for reverence, for brotherhood, for charity, for patriotism. I speak for temperance, and I likewise speak for justice.
I yearn for the day when the rank and file of our college professors will assert themselves, when the moral fiber in them will set itself against the decay in our public universities.
I pay tribute to those professors, the great body of them, who have taught you well, men and women of integrity who command a discipline and are able to teach it. They are the ones most worth studying. That is something that every freshman should know. They reflect a balance in development of the whole man. These are the men and women to be trusted, to be emulated.
God grant that they may soon look up from their books and turn from their studies and stand to be counted with those administrators who struggle to keep the moral foundation of our universities in place. May those men and women wield heavy influence and plant in the hearts and minds of the students a fundamental respect for truth and for integrity.
Now in conclusion, as you leave the campus satisfied at the things you have gained, go through your pockets to see if something may have been lost—spiritual things—essential if there is to be happiness in your future.
Take with you your faith, your patriotism, your virtue. If they are battered a bit, carry them away with you nevertheless. They can be renewed. You will come to know in the years ahead that life has precious little to offer without them.