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Linda Dunn

Linda Dunn

08 Sep. 2004

Transcript

Empowered Students, Involved Citizens

 
I’m delighted to be here among all of you because of my association with LDS Business College and because of the fine people that I’ve had opportunity to work with.
 
It should be very clear to you as we visit today that the success of the Utah Campus Compact and civic engagement is for one reason alone: good people care deeply about  the subject of Utah Campus Compact. People cared deeply and there’s no one who cares more than President Woodhouse. He has been not only a strong advocate in the short time that I’ve been on board, but he has probably the most longevity in seeing the history of this work and has been much of a strong hold.
 
I begin today by telling you how delighted I am to be amongst you. How delighted and impressed I am that you would take this hour which is your time to eat lunch and take a break from studies. I’m very impressed to be able to be in this room. The first time I came here last spring, I was fortunate to come to a devotional where Chief Justice Christine Durham had been invited to speak. She was here actually as part of a Utah Campus Compact month of action event. Your great leaders here at LDS Business College were blessed to be the only ones able to get the chief justice to speak during that month of action. I was delighted to be in this room and so motivated to here her take time out of her very busy schedule to come and talk to students in this very room about the history of civics education and her role now as a judge. How much she cares that we come out of our education civically minded and caring about our community. As she spoke to us that day, I was more motivated. I even marked on my calendar that a couple of weeks from now Governor Olene Walker is slated to speak here. I was so delighted to know that I could come again in this same room and be so motivated.
 
I was a little surprised when Matt Tittle called and said, “We have a slot open would you come and speak?” Immediately I felt overwhelmed, and thought they must have common folk mixed in with these very impressive leaders that come. I also felt so honored to come and share some thoughts with you, because the very topic we’re talking about includes us all. It is not for the chief justice alone or the governor. It is for common folks like me and you because it is about impacting our lives.
 
As I put together my talk, I had a thought come to me that I heard this summer at one of my trainings that really I thought said so much in a really comical way. It said, “I come to you. I have few answers and many more questions. I am as confused as ever but I believe I am confused at a higher level about more important questions.” As I heard this statement, I thought that is exactly what has happened to me. I have far less answers and I have so many more questions. And although I have far fewer answers, my questions are at a higher level. Maybe higher education does that to us.
 
You have all come from high school settings in the last couple of years to higher education.  Higher education is higher thought, advancing on the knowledge and the base that we already have. As I have had the opportunity to think more deeply about more complex questions I probably am, in some ways, as confused as ever. But I am also as committed as I could ever be about my role and the opportunities I have as a citizen, as a member of the Church, and in the capacity that I am here. What it is that I’m to do?
 
As I share some thoughts today my real goal—if I don’t do one other thing—is to speak to you directly. I want you to come away thinking a little bit more about your own path. We’re here today to talk about civic engagement and I laugh because it’s a higher education term. You’re probably thinking what is civic engagement? Why do we use that term?
 
There’s no shortage of definitions for civic engagement. It embodies a spectrum of ideas but at the most simple level it is what you know of and think of as volunteerism and service. It goes beyond that to participatory citizenship, beyond that to what you may know as character education, such as the classes that Keith Poelman spoke about with service learning. It also embodies civic education, and democracy in action. We sometimes use the words “civic learning.” As Keith Poelman explained so well, what we’re really talking about is putting into action the knowledge that we gain. It’s taking our action and having it impact our attitudes. We may do that in a variety of ways, but the heart of it is being a good citizen, being someone who is informed and takes an active role on all levels. It is turning knowledge into action. Its experiential learning. It’s taking what you learn and using it, not just to make a living but to make the world a better place.
 
 Last year our campaign used a quote from Sir Winston Churchill that said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” One of our biggest challenges at the Utah Campus Compact office is helping students like you understand what we are talking about: how students can get involved. We have had some success by having the students steer the ship, with student body presidents like Matt Harvey meet with us often to give ideas of what they think students on their campus need.
 
I did make one really good call last year. I hired two young people to come work in my office. I hired one from the University of Utah, probably the most dyed-in-red Utah fan you’ve ever met. And I hired this other person from BYU. She was almost ready to graduate and all of her family had attended BYU. I thought I hope they do okay together, and I hope they can get around this idea of civic engagement.
 
The very first day they stepped into the office I said, “I have an idea. I think we should go across the state of Utah to every single campus and do some kind of a rally and get students excited about their role in the community and civic engagement.” I asked, “How are we going to do that?” and these two started working together. They got acquainted, and we immediately realized that there are three main goals of civic engagement that you want to get out to people. Number one, get involved. Whatever it is, get involved and do something because if you get involved then number two may happen and it may attract or interest you. The definitions of engagement are these things: involvement to pull you out; number two, to attract or interest you; and then number three may happen, which is a pledge or promise.
 
We hope to get the message out to students that civic engagement is getting out and getting involved. It’s finding things you’re interested in so that you may end up pledging a chunk of your time and your interest into an area.  I had no idea how seriously these two University of Utah and BYU students took my charge. First of all they planned and pulled off the most successful campaign. They made it so we arrived to the minute on every campus. This bus tour whirled across the state of Utah in one day. We came running into LDS Business College and, sure enough, President Woodhouse was right there, along with Keith Poelman and many students to rally here on this campus.
 
What I didn’t know is that these two students were really taking to heart the definition of engagement because along the tour they started to get involved and they started to get a little attracted and interested in each other. Little did I know that this University of Utah and BYU co-ed would take the definition of engagement really to heart because on August eleventh they did the third aspect of “pledge and promise.” They became engaged to be married on December thirtieth. If our office doesn’t do anymore engagement than that, I think we’ve had tremendous success.
 
I share that story with you because if you are anything as I was as a college student, you are interested in two things. You are interested in education, and in relationships and furthering your life in the engagement route that these two staffers went. At your age I really was not aware of what my potential role might be in the community. That felt like a back burner, third thing, fourth thing, fifth thing on my list. But in the last couple of years I have begun to understand more and more that our role as a citizen in taking what knowledge we have and applying it is not just important. I have become passionate about it and have become aware that it is critical. It is a spiritual charge for us as well as a civic charge.
 
Like many of you I have found great interest in our upcoming election. Regardless of where we stand politically, it is a climate charged with opportunity to look at issues. I listened to both conventions, with interest, over this last summer. A quote was mentioned by Dick Cheney in the most recent convention, and I love that he quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he said that truly, “What we are embarking on is a rendezvous with destiny.” I thought, how interesting, because Jamie and Mysa, as they are engaged and moving to their future as the staff young people that work with me, definitely have a rendezvous with destiny. But so to do each of us in our role as citizens.
 
Doctrine and Covenants 58: 27-28 says, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
 
It’s interesting that fewer people vote, even though there is a lot of interest in civic engagement and in what is going on today. There is a lot of decline, especially among your age. Fewer people read the newspapers and write letters to the politicians. Fewer people even invite their neighbors over for dinner then anytime in the past fifty years. That decline is steepest among the young, and while there is some evidence that new forms of civic engagement are emerging, such as internet chat rooms and infinity group-based protest, it is unclear if they will have a measurable impact on the quality of civic life.
 
Working for a political party is at a 40- year low. Targeting what people don’t know about civic education seems to be a favorite past time, particularly for David Letterman. Thirty eight percent of respondents could not name the three branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—but 58 percent could name the Three Stooges.
 
Recent events in the world, from September 11th to the war in Iraq, have convinced everyone that understanding our democracy is important. If teachers in other countries are developing curriculum and having professional development around what is democracy, I think strongly that those of us here better have a clearer understanding of our nation’s history and the benefits of democracy. A quote that Ezra Taft Benson shared with members of the Church in a conference said, “The most dangerous threat of all comes from the disinterested, the great group of otherwise intelligent people who shrug off any responsibility for public affairs.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 628).
 
At LDS Business College you are embarking on or are in the middle of a higher education experience. We need to be reminded of the statistic that one in one hundred people on our planet today gain a college education. As Ezra Taft Benson said, even more important than intelligent people who shrug off responsibility for public affairs, the belief that education can empower is why you’re here. That’s why you pay tuition and take your time. Empowered students become citizens that actively address community issues.
 
Campus Compact fosters the notion that higher education has a civic purpose. We’re not just fostering the belief that you should go out and serve because that’s a good thing each of you should consider for your own personal behaviors. What we foster with Campus Compact is that institutions take on a strong agenda as their civic mission and purpose. It becomes a part of the institution’s agenda to provide faculty with training and opportunities to further connect their curriculum to community issues. A multitude of faculty are willing to share ideas on how to do that so that students can be impacted by an education that will empower them to understand the issues in the community.
 
I would like to touch on the three ideas of getting involved, becoming interested, and pledging and promising.
 
Getting involved. No one says it better than President Gordon B. Hinckley when he said, “I want to say to you and I say it with a plea in my heart: get involved. Get involved on the side of righteousness, and truth, and decency, and sobriety, and virtue. You and others like you are the hope of the world.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 128-29). Getting involved means that our involvement isn’t limited to one thing; it’s a structured class with involvement on many different levels. It’s the first step of civic participation, a step that brings in people without any other commitment. It’s how leaders here at LDS Business College may invite you into service by just getting you involved. It helps open up doors you had no idea you would find interesting. In teaching in high school for over twenty years and working in the area of community involvement, I cannot tell you how many times it has turned a student’s interest to an area they had no idea they’d be interested in. A student may think he’s a business major and begins to work with children and decides education is the field he’s interested in. Or a student in engineering works with the homeless and decides that poverty issues are what he’s interested in. or social work. A college education fosters this very notion by exposing you to a variety of subject matters.
 
Community exposure is a vital piece of involvement as a citizen. I cannot implore you more to choose to get involved. It is the way you get exposed to the menu of opportunities, and may help you to move to the next step. We get involved by doing simple things as well, simple acts like picking up litter, giving blood, recycling, staying out of debt and volunteering. This first level of personal involvement is a key step of commitment. Voting is obviously a way to get involved. Many would say that it makes no difference to get out and vote. Many your age have said that because there has not been a lower turn out in past elections since the 1824 vote. There is a greater campaign then there has ever been this election. I encourage young people that not only can your vote turn the tide of the election, but furthermore, your vote empowers you. It helps you realize that you are part of the whole. Your single voice is a collective voice. 
 
To be involved empowers our representatives. In our very Constitution it says that the people—you and I—have just power and we give that to our representatives through our vote. I like the idea that it is through involvement that we find the things we are interested in. Service learning can spark interest for us. It can take us from experiences and make us want to participate more fully. I can’t tell you how many opportunities I’ve exposed students to. One time I said, “Let’s go serve breakfast under the viaduct.” Then I found out months later that the student was so taken by that experience that she’s been there every week for eight or ten weeks. One time may spark an interest for you in something that encourages you to carry on and does it in a way that allows you to find your own passions and your own interest.
 
The last type of involvement is to pledge. Civic engagement can become a way of life, just like Jamie and Mysa are pledging in way that is going to be a way of life and for eternity for them. I believe our charge here on earth is to promise that we will clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and find solutions for community problems.
An example of one such person comes to mind. On the Utah Campus Compact board is a community advocate. We wanted someone on our board that wasn’t there by title or position, but was absolutely a champion of the community. We are fortunate to have Pamela Atkinson serve on our board.  Those of you that know Pamela Atkinson know that she exemplifies these three levels. Pamela Atkinson, from England, chose first and foremost to get involved. She went down to the homeless center and travelers aid and began helping serve food. Over time, Pamela learned people’s names and got involved and took an interest in peoples’ lives. As time has gone on, Pamela not only has an interest for, but is also an incredible advocate for so many underserved groups.
 
Just last year President Woodhouse and all the presidents from our campuses, along with student body presidents, served a sit down dinner at the homeless shelter. Pamela Atkinson was really our ambassador. That night I cannot tell you how many people came up to her that she knew by first name. She had things in her car she knew they needed from the last she saw them. She said, “Ben, next time I come I will bring that sweater that you need.” “Lucy, I know your dog’s hungry. Next time I come I’ll have some dog food for you.” I was so amazed that, time after time that evening, she kept going out to her car and had things for these people she knew they needed. You could see in their eyes that instead of feeling like society had forgotten them, they felt valued and appreciated. But far more than her involvement and interest, I was inspired by Pamela’s promise. Pamela decided that it was not enough to just give them a meal .The way we serve homeless people best is to help them stay out of poverty and to fight the problem, so Pamela took it further. If you pay state income tax or when you do, I encourage you to notice that at the very bottom of the second page you have an option to contribute to the Pamela Atkinson Homelessness Fund.
 
Last year Pamela raised millions of dollars for the homeless. Instead of giving it to the homeless in food—because our city is already providing that—Pamela helped develop a prevention program. With that money she is putting people who are right on the verge of homelessness into apartments, helping them get jobs, and keeping homelessness something they don’t step into. What an incredible example to me of a citizen who says, “I could make a difference.” She doesn’t start with the homelessness fund; she starts by being involved, by being interested, and then letting that natural path evolve. I love that Pamela exemplifies there are different kinds of citizens. All of us are not necessarily going to change policy or have our name on some new law.
 
We have the opportunity to choose what kind of citizens we want to be. I hope that we would choose to be the first kind of citizen, a personally responsible citizen. If we do nothing else but choose to be personally responsible, I believe we are really exemplifying the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28:  “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
 
Our personal behaviors of voting, recycling, caring for our neighbor, all of those things we can do are personally responsible. I also encourage us to consider being a participatory citizen. We can be both, but to be a participatory citizen means being like these students on the student council. They have chosen to be participatory. I’m sure you have chosen the same. We choose to get on councils. We choose to be involved. I think that the prophet and many of our conference talks have helped us to know that we need to be involved, not just in the Church but in the community, in civic affairs, and in all the capacities that we can. I love that we are reminded of that often.
 
 The final way we can be involved that is to be a justice-oriented citizen. We can look at things that are not right in our society and, in small and simple ways, have an impact on helping to change those things. I think the older you get the more you realize it really is within your power. A very dear friend of mine that I went all through school with was a campaign manager when I ran for a seventh grade office. She was a really dear friend, just a year older than I. I watched her go through her life, and she currently is a Utah state senator whom some of you may know by the name of Karen Hales. She is running for lieutenant governor at this time. More important than the politics, I’m speaking to the opportunity. I’ve begun to realize that one person can make a difference as I’ve watched Karen in the role of being a representative for many of us. It’s empowering. It’s empowering to see. She has come to many settings that I have taught in. Karen spoke to groups of young students told them, “You could write a bill. It’s people just like you that I see on Capitol Hill pushing through legislation.” She is constantly reminding me and her audiences that the people on Capitol Hill making changes in our laws are people just like you and I. They may have a stronger cause—they may have a child born with a disability and they really care that there are ramps so that child can get to a particular building. Or they may have had a drunk driver take someone from their lives and they really care, so they are there at Capitol Hill. I hope it doesn’t take all those experiences to cause us to really care. It doesn’t have to touch our individual lives. Pamela Atkinson didn’t have someone homeless in her family to really care about and know those people. It is the very thing, from a spiritual level, that we are really implored to do as members of the Church.
 
In conclusion, I have to tell you it is a delight to be here at LDS Business College to put these notions of civic engagement under the umbrella and context of the gospel. I don’t always get the opportunity to do that when working with service learning and civic engagement. My own testimony is why I personally feel passionate about this work, because spiritual civic faith is part of this work. It has a life of its own. We aren’t getting support because of things individuals are doing; there is support for this kind of work because it is the right thing to do. It is our Heavenly Father who wants us to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. It isn’t the same thing for each of us. You need to find that path and find what it is that calls to you. What a great place to be finding out what that is.
 
Here at LDS Business College you are exposed to new ideas, getting a deeper understanding of concepts. To thread that into issues in real life is the richest way to leave this institution. I know our Heavenly Father expects us to have our education make a difference.
 
In closing, I want share with you why I have civic faith. This summer I was at a conference in Florida. I found it interesting that a congressmen, who now works in Washington as the executive director of the Council of Excellence in Government, shared these thoughts in a very secular setting. He said, “Civic faith is real!” He read to the audience a few things I’d like to share with you
 
He read parts of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that I had never thought about in terms of my faith. We godliness was inherent in the beginnings of our country. I like to ponder the statement, “We hold these truths to be self evident.” Self evident truths are not things we attempt to prove; they are a matter of faith. If it’s self evident, it’s something we know in our heart.
 
As we continue on we read, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” We can’t help but think about respect for others more equity. He mentioned that day that he believed, “The work of preserving and nurturing American democracy is a calling, it is a vocation drawn from our deepest, moral convictions.” As he finished and read these last quotes from the Constitution, I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck; I felt the power that I am empowered with as a citizen of our country. He said, “We the people … in order to… establish justice, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Notice the language of civic religion reflected in the phrases of, “the blessings of liberty” and in “ordaining and establishing.” We did not merely establish a Constitution—we ordained it.
 
As Ezra Taft Benson said, “Let us seek to take an active part in our local, state, and national affairs. We are commanded by the Lord to do so. It is as binding on us as any of the Lords commandments. We must become involved in civic affairs. As citizens we cannot do our duty and be idle spectators.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson {1998], 675).  I have a testimony of this as much as I have a testimony of the things that I’m here to do on this earth. I am here to make a difference in my own small arena. I am grateful for the gospel and the frame work it gives me, empowering me to put in the context of understanding that it is more than a good thing to do.
 
My faith relies on this, and that I care about it in a deep way because it is something that we’ve been created to do. We have come here to get a clearer understanding of our role and the way that we can have an impact. I’m so delighted to be with you today and I pray  very earnestly that as you are here pursuing your own path that somehow my comments, and the ones you’ll continue to hear, even in a much more meaningful way in this very room in your Wednesday devotionals, will continue to guide and help you. I have been guided and helped the most by the opportunity to be with you and to try to articulate the things I feel strongly about. I’m grateful for that, and share my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.