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Some Things Matter Some Things Don't

by F. Burton Howard.

Quorum of the Seventy
May 9, 2002

Commencement Address delivered at Graduation

In educational circles this day is called commencement. Commencement means a beginning. The end of schooling means the beginning of something else, the commencement of other things. Sometimes there is a breakdown in communications at services such as this. The speaker is of one generation - the graduates of another. They are celebrating the end and the speaker wants to talk about a beginning.
I once gave a talk to a group of students. The man who introduced me listed my accomplishments in great detail. I was held up as an example of a person who had achieved many things and overcome many obstacles. I suppose the purpose of the introduction was to encourage the young people to set high goals and accomplish great things.
I entered into the spirit of the event and began to tell about my life, and the honors I had won, and how I had worked my way through college. I mentioned some of the things that were said in introducing me to you today and others as well.
They seemed interested and I thought I was getting through to them. After I had spoken eloquently about myself for some time, I asked if anyone had any questions. I was pleased when a big kid near the back raised his hand. "If you're such a cool guy," he asked, "why are you driving such a cheap car?"
I learned quite a bit that day about what students consider to be important.
Let me be honest with you. What matters to me might not seem so important to you right now. My values may seem naive or old fashioned. My view of success, while not antediluvial, clearly is grounded in a former century. Nevertheless, there are a few things I do know that are important enough to talk about for a few minutes this afternoon.
First of all I am sure you know that there are more people in the job market today than there are jobs. In fact there are probably fewer jobs available today than there were when you enrolled here a couple of years ago. This present-day reality tends to heighten anxiety about job security and dulls concerns about morality in the workplace.
To make matters worse, many students have been taught some things about business success that simply are not true. Whether they learned them from teachers, parents or from the lyrics of a popular song, they have come to believe a number of myths that make the decision of what to do with their lives even more difficult than it otherwise would be. With this in mind, let me tell you a two things that matter and some other things that don't matter much.
1. First, there is no such thing as the right profession. Happiness and joy have nothing to do with whether or not you are admitted to medical school or law school or to an MBA program somewhere. Success does not depend upon your getting a glamorous job with a prestigious accounting firm or high tech company. To quote Elder M Russell Ballard in a recent CES fireside address:
"Remember, you can be exalted without a college degree, you can be exalted without being slender and beautiful. You can be exalted without having a successful career. You can be exalted without being rich and famous." Be Strong in the Lord, and in the Power of His Might, March 3, 2002
2. Second, it isn't true that you must rise to the top of the organization, or be the CEO or the CFO in order to be happy or successful.
3. Third, and this may come as a blow to some of you, happiness and success do not depend on whether or not you make a lot of money. It is foolish to plan to enter a profession or a career just because it reputedly pays well.
Most of you will spend about forty years working. If you work forty hours a week, that's two thousand hours per year and 80,000 hours in a lifetime. That's a long time to work at something you don't enjoy no matter how well it pays.
4. Now there is another thing that doesn't matter. I hope saying this doesn't put me at odds with your advisors or your mothers or others who may have influenced you to graduate from college, but I believe that you don't absolutely need to know, right now, TODAY, what you are going to do with the rest of your life in order to be happy. Let me illustrate.
I don't practice law anymore, but I was once a moderately successful lawyer. I represented clients in many parts of the world. Several times I represented clients before the United States Supreme Court. On more than one occasion I secured judgments for my clients in amounts, as we lawyers delicately put it, of more than seven figures. Would you like to know how I came to be a lawyer?
My father worked for the government. We lived in thirteen different places before I left home at the age of seventeen to go to college. When our high school yearbook came out, the editor said I had to list my ambition in life beneath my picture. After spending all of two and one half minutes in meticulous preparation and careful thought, and after consulting with absolutely no one, I placed my life's goal in the immortal concrete of a high school yearbook page. I said I wanted to be a college teacher. I never achieved that goal.
I had a variety of jobs when was in high school. One summer, in Wyoming, I was a cowboy, feeding cattle, mending fences and coming to town every two weeks or so to buy supplies. The next summer I worked as a laborer, unloading bags of cement from railroad cars. Then I worked for a construction company driving trucks and laying asphalt in remote mountain passes in Montana and Wyoming.
I sold shoes, and encyclopedias. I tried radio announcing. I managed a soil testing laboratory for the Bureau of Reclamation and went through a Sears managerial training program. I served as a missionary for the Church. I went to college, majoring first in chemical engineering and then changing to political science.
It was after all of this that I decided to be a lawyer. I never regretted that decision just as I have never regretted any of the other experiences that preceded it. And I constantly marvel at the richness of the life which has followed.
I have become aware of the fact that many people start out in one job and end up in another. I believe that is good and I believe it is healthy. One of my favorite quotations in this regard is from James Mitchener who published his first book after he was 40 years old. In an essay entitled, "On Wasting Time," he wrote:
Many men and women win through to a sense of greatness in their lives only by first stumbling and fumbling their way into patterns that gratify them, and allow them to utilize their endowments to a maximum . . . I believe you have until 35 to decide finally on what you are going to do, and that any exploration you pursue in the process will in the end turn out to have been creative. Readers Digest, October 1974, pp. 193-94
On the other hand some things do matter. There is a scripture that has fascinated me since I first discovered it years ago. The 88th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants states that God gave a law to govern all things. The 25th verse says, "And again, verily I say unto you, the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation . . . "
The concept of "filling the measure of your creation" has been the subject of many sermons. Brigham Young spoke it in these words:
"Hear it, all ye Latter-day Saints! Will you spend the time of your probation for naught, and fool away your existence and being? You were organized, and brought into being, for the purpose of enduring forever, if you fulfil the measure of your creation, pursue the right path, observe the requirements of the celestial law, and obey the commandments of our God. Discourses, p.87 JD1: 113
So there is a purpose in your being here. You just have to discover it. There are some things which are so inextricably connected to that "measure of your creation" that if you fail to pay attention to them you risk losing altogether the success and happiness we all seek. One of those things is persistent effort. Another is integrity.
Contrary to what you might like to think, effort really does matter. On a plane a while ago, I read an article in the New York Times. It was entitled "Day of Decision at the Naval Academy." Let me quote briefly:
ANNAPOLIS, Md., Jan. 23 - Midshipmen who will graduate from the Naval Academy in June decided this week whether they wanted to be aviators or nuclear submariners, destroyer men or engineers, marines or oceanographers.
From last Thursday afternoon through the wee hours of Friday morning the first classmen or seniors lined up according to their standing in the class, walked up to a long table lined with officers from each specialty and made their choices on a first come, first served basis.
The No. 1 midshipman . . . chose to be a nuclear submariner . . . The highest ranking of the sixty-five women in the class, chose duty aboard the destroyer tender Yosemite . . .
Emotions sometimes ran high in the selection. There was elation for those who got their first choices; tension in the middle of the class for midshipmen who had to make spot decisions depending on what was still open, and disappointment for those at the bottom.
The Academy's Director of Professional Development . . . summed it up, saying: "This is the [time] where he or she has the sole control over his destiny. After this, it's the needs of the service."
Effort made all the difference to those graduates of the Naval Academy. It will make the difference for you. It helps to have brains but in the long-run, effort and persistence will carry you further than intellect.
Calvin Coolidge is reported to have said,
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
The nice thing about effort is its ubiquity. Anyone can persevere. Anyone can work hard. Perseverence and effort make the difference both in getting into a job or a marriage and getting the most out of one. Any wishful thinking to the contrary won't change a thing.
In view of the Enron scandal we need to discuss another thing that matters. Harold M. Williams, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, once commented on the problem in a speech to the American Bar Association. He said:
"Increasingly we as a society, look to the law to define right and wrong, a moral and immoral: the notion that the law sets the floor rather than the ceiling receives little currency. By the same token, a tendency to focus on the law leads to the withering of interest and concern for the ethical. The implicit assumption increasingly becomes that if (the law) has not forbidden it, it must be (morally) acceptable. This results in increased dependence on legal process to define the limits, and the game becomes one, as it has in tax law – of avoidance and loophole closing. The result is a fundamental change in the mores of the society."
As Latter-day Saints and graduates of this great business school you must concern yourself with the morality of all that you do. You cannot afford to confine your gospel observance to the meeting house and conduct your professional lives according to the manner of the world. From my perspective I can assure you that this will be your greatest challenge and your most significant opportunity. What is legal and what is ethical are not synonymous. What you have learned here will uniquely equip you to determine the rightness and wrongness of human and corporate conduct. If you do not learn these lessons, no matter what your achievements, you are destined to be a failure–a failure as a professional and a failure as a Latter-day Saint.
And to those who say to you that you should not concern yourselves with ethics and honesty in the workplace, I say nonsense. Only a prostitute does not concern himself with the morality of his actions. Only a mercenary sells his services to a cause without concern for the consequences. You simply must become involved in these issues or risk your own salvation.
Here arises the great ethical dilemma that all of us must face. Which is the greatest commandment – my company's wishes or my own integrity? Do I serve the end or do I serve the means? Unfortunately, in this day and age we must confront these questions more than once and the battle is never ending. As comfort and assistance in the struggle I offer the words of the psalmist who, when summing up his own life to the great Judge of all, said:
"Judge me, O Lord: for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord: therefore I shall not slide."
"Examine me, O Lord, and prove me: try my reins and my heart."
"For thy loving kindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth."
"I have not sat with vain persons, either will I go in with dissemblers."
"I have hated the congregation of evil doers: and will not sit with the wicked."
"I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord":
* * *
"Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honor dwelleth."
(Psalms 26:1-8)
A number of years ago I was at a stake conference assignment in Canada. One of the speakers, a counselor in the stake presidency, had just concluded a multimillion dollar contract. He spoke of this and told a story I think would be interesting to you. He said:
Not so long ago I sat for the first time with a group of wealthy and astute business men, none of whom I had ever met before. During the course of our negotiation, the question of professional ethics and business integrity came up. The man in the group with the most ‘financial clout' finally said that he had never met a man who could not be bought for money or for a woman or both.
Before anyone could reply, he added that even Christ had his Judas and Samson his Delilah. Then he said, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon. In a lifetime of business I have met two men who could not be bought for a price . . . ' And turning to me (the only Albertan in the room) he continued, ‘Both of them were from Alberta. They were in the oil business out there. One had been a government minister and president of a pipeline company. His name was Tanner. The other was a lawyer chap by the name of Brown. He was a guest in my home several times. Oh, what an eloquent man, but humble . . . His name was Hugh Brown.'
"Then my business friend paused, took his cigar out of his mouth, puffed out a great cloud of smoke, and said: ‘Both Tanner and Brown were as straight as strings, and Mormons to boot."
"Later when the man with the cigar learned that I, too, was a member of the Church and knew Brother Tanner and Brother Brown personally, he paid them and me further tribute by saying: ‘We won't need an interim agreement on this deal. If you're anything like your associates, Tanner and Brown, your word is your bond.'"
Another beautiful illustration of integrity is found in the life of Samuel Bent. Samuel Bent was a friend of the Prophet Joseph. He was an obscure member of the Church who crossed the plains in 1847. Prior to that he was a member of the high council in Nauvoo. Prior to that in 1840 Joseph gave him a letter of appointment authorizing him and a man named Harris to visit Church branches in the East and raise money for the printing of the Book of Mormon and some hymn books. I would like to read to you from that letter of appointment.
To all whom it may concern: - This is to certify that Elders Samuel Bent and George W. Harris are authorized agents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, being appointed by the First Presidency . . . to visit the branches of the Church in the east, or wherever they may be led in the providence of God, to obtain donations and subscriptions for the purpose of printing the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, hymn-books, [and] the new translation of the Scriptures. They are likewise instructed and authorized to procure loans in behalf of the Church, for carrying into operation the above and other important works necessary to the well being of said Church.
From our long acquaintance with these our beloved brethren, their long, tried friendship under circumstances the most trying and painful, their zeal for the cause of truth, and their strict morality and honesty, we most cheerfully recommend them to the Saints of the Most High. Any statements they may make relative to their mission may be implicitly relied upon, and any loans which they may obtain, will be considered binding on the Church. And we do hope the Saints will do all in their power to effect the object proposed, and lift up the hands of our beloved brethren who have cheerfully come forward to engage in a work so great and important.
Joseph Smith, Jun., President
Imagine what it would be like to have that said of you. That any statement made could be implicitly relied upon; and that any promise made would be considered binding the company or cause you represent. That, my friends, is integrity.
So learn to differentiate between what is important and what isn't. Choose your life's work carefully. Select work that will bring out the best in you, work that will cause growth and require effort and permit you to maintain integrity. Choose work that will allow time for family and service to the Church and your community and you will discover happiness.
You will then be able to make your contribution to life. If you are fortunate, you will leave the world a little richer and a little better than it would have been had you not lived. You cannot expect much more than this from life. On this day of commencement I challenge you to accept no less.

© Intellectual Properties Inc.

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