Additional Resource

President Eyring Address to UVU Graduates

Accomplishment and Happiness

By President Henry B. Eyring
Utah Valley University Commencement Address
Orem, Utah
Thursday, May 4, 2017

I am grateful to participate in this ceremony to honor those receiving degrees today. However, my part as a speaker in this program is made somewhat difficult because of the kind choice the university made to confer a degree on me, albeit honorary, in the same ceremony. You can see my problem since I must try both to accept with gratitude and to motivate you with enthusiasm.

Generally, the speaker is expected to urge the graduates onward to great accomplishment in a satisfying life, but it is a future that neither the graduates nor the speaker can see clearly. More than that, the lessons the speaker thinks were learned through his or her long life may not apply to today’s graduates in the unseen future before them.

So I will take the only safe route I can see today. I will point out what you have already learned in your education at this university. That will give you encouragement and advice enough, and I will have discharged my speaker’s obligation—so long as I keep it short. 

First, your experiences here have changed you and the way you see yourself. You have done hard things, more difficult than you thought you could do. Time after time, you have found that, with sustained effort, you have surprised yourself with new power to do good things. You have discovered that you have gifts you didn’t know you had.

Second, you have changed in the way you see other people. You have discovered that your increased power to do hard things came largely through the influence of others. You came to appreciate the unselfishness of the people around you. You began to see people more as allies than as competitors.

I imagine those changes came to you in the same way they did for me. Like yours, my change in perspective began in classes in which I felt overwhelmed. My father, himself a scientist, urged me to study physics and mathematics as an undergraduate. He said that he saw great changes coming in technology that would reshape the world I would live in.

And so I, like you, found myself trying to do hard things, things that seemed to me far beyond my abilities. But my father and my teachers gave me the same hard advice: “Hal, you’ll never amount to anything until you learn to work until your ears ring.” (Incidentally, as I grow older, my ears ring whether I work hard or not, so that advice no longer helps me.) It took years—and many universities—for change to come in the way I saw myself. I discovered what you have learned in this university—that with hard, steady effort, you may expect to discover gifts you did not know were in you.

Your capacity to make that sustained effort has come primarily through the help of others. You have had teachers here, as I had in more than one university, who believed in your ability to do things beyond what seemed to you to be reasonable.

You may remember, as I do, a teacher who saw promise in your imperfect efforts. For me, that moment was when I turned in an examination paper to a distinguished economist. One of the essay questions was to describe what is called the “multiplier effect” in an economy. Now, many of you may know what the “multiplier effect” is, but I didn’t. I used the little physics I knew to create an answer to the question. Rather than giving me a failing grade, which my inventive answer deserved, the professor called me to his office.

I will carry with me forever the feeling of growing courage that came from his response. He said that he saw great promise in my creative and terribly wrong answer. He gave the paper the highest grade. But more important than the grade he gave was the way he changed how I saw my own potential to do things. I also saw, in him, a person who cared more about me than about economics, a discipline that he dearly loved.

In your life in this university, you have found the courage to keep working until your ears ring because of the confidence others have had in you. You may even have had the experience I had with my father, who was my constant personal tutor. He was himself a greatly honored scientist. Yet he said to me when I received a small recognition for success, “Hal, when you win, I win.”

This university is blessed with such people. They feel achievement in the accomplishments of the students and colleagues they have helped. And because of their influence, you have been changed in your growing confidence that, with steady effort, you can do harder and better things than you thought possible.

I see in this university what my father was trying to teach me after I had been a student and a teacher in four universities, some of them renowned for their accomplished graduates. I was visiting with him in his home. In a kindly voice, he said, “Hal, you have a problem. You think education is where you have been. Education is what you can do.”

This university has in its very DNA the capacity to help people do things they thought were above and beyond their abilities. It began many years ago as a vocational school where people were given confidence to do things that seemed too hard for them. Just a few days ago, I spoke with a man who graduated from that technical school. He studied automotive bodywork. He has built businesses and served as a leader in efforts to bless people across many nations. My opportunity was to invite him to do something beyond what he now sees as his abilities. But he accepted with confidence, in large part because of what people here did for him as a young man, like what others have done here for you graduates.

I have every confidence that this university will continue to grow in its influence to help people gain the power to do good things in spite of whatever obstacles they face. I am sure of that future.

I asked President Holland for information about the university so that I could understand it better to prepare my remarks for today. To my surprise, rather than providing facts about the great growth in numbers and in measures of academic quality, he sent me stories about some of you and about others who have recently graduated.

Every story was of a person who came here faced with challenges beyond any I ever faced and yet who achieved beyond what he or she could reasonably have expected. I won’t tell the stories publicly out of respect for those seated before me and because of my inability to do them adequate honor. But I will never forget their stories—nor will President Holland, who will one day look back on his service here, remembering them and the brave experiences of other graduates whose successes felt to him as if they were his own.

My guess is that when he gets to the stage where I am now, he will thumb through scrapbooks for memories that will give him satisfaction. Some of the books will feature pictures of a growing campus, more impressive than the presidents who went before him could have imagined. Other scrapbooks will catalog impressive accomplishments. Some will feature academic improvements and recognitions.

But I am confident that the scrapbook he will open most often will be the one with photos and short accounts of the lives of you graduates. Oh, the favored scrapbook will also have pictures of him and his family—but only because he found his joy with them, as he did with you, in seeing each become better than he or she imagined. And there will be some pictures of the people who taught and served here who thought, as President Holland did, that greatness and happiness come from helping people believe that they can become better and then seeing them do it.

As he looks over those faces, he will think, “Thank you,” and perhaps feel a touch of surprise that he was invited to be part of something as great as what is happening in this place.

Now, you will not be surprised by my advice about what you should do as you move from graduation into your hard-to-see future, nor will you wonder at where I believe you will find the greatest happiness.

You will see more alternatives ahead than you can follow. They may be to seek more schooling or a job or a career path. Which one you choose will matter less than does the courage you found and increased here. That courage guarantees that with hard work, you can grow in your capacity to learn to do anything better.

So, your life plan will be to do whatever task you undertake with the confidence that, with hard work, it will lead to more alternatives—yet to appear and yet to be offered you. As you persist in learning how to do better and better each task you undertake, you will have more exciting alternatives presented to you. Rapid change is not the enemy of a great learner. Instead, it is the source of new opportunities for you to learn and to do.

Now, you will not find your greatest happiness in your own growing capacity to do things, however much recognition you receive, nor will you find it in how much you become able to contribute to the world. Public recognition, praise, and honors will, in time, seem to diminish in their power to bring you real satisfaction.

In the long run, and even in the middle run, the happiness that lasts will come as you feel the joy of those you loved and lifted—and as their happiness becomes your own. For that reason alone, you will want to seek a place in marriages, families, communities, and organizations where people put the interests of others at least slightly—but regularly—above their own.

Be grateful when you are invited into such groups of people. It is a rare and precious opportunity. You would be wise to say, “Thank you,” whenever you are invited into such a setting, even for a moment. This university commencement is such a place and time. And so I am honored to have been invited for just an evening. Your honorary degree to me was a generous addition to the invitation.

But the greatest honor goes to all of you tonight. I express appreciation for your letting me feel the spirit of this learning community. I will take courage from my experience with you and will treasure happy reports about your futures and will find happiness in the happiness you feel as you lift others. I wish you great accomplishment and lasting joy. And I thank you.

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