Thomas S. Monson, the Mormon prophet, spoke at Dixie State College in Utah at their commencement. The address was given May 6, 2011, at which time he also received an honorary doctorate degree in Humanities.
President Monson often offers analogies to help listeners understand his message. In this address, he used the analogy of a bridge to suggest the bridges the graduates will have to cross in their paths to successful lives. He based this analogy on a poem called The Bridgebuilder, by Will Allen Dromgoole. President Monson is well-read and is known for his ability to have a poem or literary quote for any occasion. This poem tells of an elderly man crossing a deep and wide chasm. When he makes the challenging journey across the chasm, he stops and builds a bridge behind him. Someone asks him why he is bothering since his journey is nearly over and he won’t need to cross that chasm again. He explains that a young person will be crossing this chasm soon and while he managed the chasm successfully, it might turn out to be a pitfall to the young person crossing in dim light. He is building the bridge for that person. Thomas Monson offers three bridges of his own to help the young people to whom he is speaking.
The first bridge he offered was that of attitude.
Said American psychologist and philosopher William James, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that men can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.”
Attitude can make all the difference in our lives, and we control our attitude. It can make us miserable or happy, content or dissatisfied. To a great degree, it can make us strong or weak.” He reminded listeners that William James said if you want a virtue, act as if you already have it.
Thomas Monson told two stories that illustrated the importance of attitude. One told of John James Audubon, the great ornithologist, painter, and naturalist. President Monson has raised homing pigeons since childhood and is very fond of birds. He said that Audubon once went on a business trip. When he returned, he found rats had nibbled through a box with more than 200 of his drawings of birds. The drawings were destroyed and he was, for weeks to come, devastated at this destruction of so many years of work. Finally, he realized his attitude was destructive and he needed to take a new approach. He wrote in his journal that he was happy to have a chance to redo the drawings because this time, he could do them even better. Nothing had changed in terms of his life situation and yet when he changed his attitude, he changed his feelings about the event, thus improving his life.
The second bridge President Monson built was that of integrity, a quality that seems to be less important to many today. He said many people try to justify dishonesty.
Being true to oneself is anything but easy if the moral standards of one’s associates conflict with his or her own. The herd instinct is strong in the human animal, and the phrase “Everybody else is doing it” has an insidious attraction. To resist what “everybody else” is doing is to risk being ostracized by one’s peers, and it’s normal to dread rejection. Nothing takes more strength than swimming against the current. You, my friends, are strong and must at times decide to swim against that current.
Perhaps the surest test of an individual’s integrity is his or her refusal to do or say anything to damage his or her self-respect. The cornerstone of one’s value system should be the question, “What will I think of myself if I do this?”
President Monson told his listeners that there is no point in gaining fame and glory if you can’t look yourself in the mirror with pride.
The third bridge Thomas S. Monson offered was that of service. Thomas Monson is widely known for his compassion to those with challenges in life. As a very young bishop (a lay minister) he was assigned to a congregation with many, many widows. One of his responsibilities was to see that their needs were met. Mormon bishops have non-religious careers of their own choosing and they have families, which means their ecclesiastical work must be done after work and on weekends and must be balanced with family life. Despite this challenge, he kept a close eye on the widows, even visiting each one personally at Christmas with a fresh chicken for their holiday dinner. He spoke at all their funerals, even when he become a high level Mormon leader who traveled extensively. He often speaks of his mother, who served the men who rode the rails during the depression, and who, with the rest of the family, took gifts to families in need at Christmas time. Service is a centerpoint of President Monson’s life.
There are opportunities to serve which are open to everyone. The blind and the handicapped need friendship; the aged are hungry for companionship; the young need understanding guidance; the gifted are starved for encouragement. These benefits can’t be conferred by reaching for your checkbook. Personal service is direct and human.
Said a wise man many years ago, “We can’t do everything for everyone everywhere, but we can do something for someone somewhere.”
Our service to others may not be dramatic, but we can bolster human spirits, clothe cold bodies, feed hungry people, comfort grieving hearts, and lift to new heights precious souls.
He told students that while they may become rich or famous, their real success in life will be measured by how much they serve. This level of service is what will bring them true satisfaction, not the money and fame.
This graduation was the 100th anniversary of the university, which began as the Saint George Stake Academy and was created by the Mormons. In 1933, the Church turned it over to the state, which considered closing it in 1952. However, voters rescued the college. It was once a high school and college combined. In time, the high school became a separate school and the community college eventually began to add four-year degrees. It is working toward university status now.
Read Thomas Monson’s address to Dixie State College.