President Thomas S. Monson's Remarks at the 2011 Dixie State College Commencement

This is the text of President Thomas S. Monson's address at the Dixie State College Commencement on May 6, 2011.

Three Bridges to Cross

President Nadauld, distinguished members of the faculty, esteemed guests and graduating class of 2011, I express my deep appreciation for the privilege which is mine to be a part of this special Centennial Commencement and to be presented with an honorary degree. I am filled with humility and gratitude.

As I look out at this great gathering, I feel to commend you—not only for your accomplishments, but also for your order, your charity, your courtesy, and your enthusiasm.                            

Graduates, I honor you and admire you. It is not merely a willingness to work hard that has brought you to this place, but also qualities of character that you have developed throughout your lives.

I salute those who are with us who have invested much in you—your families and your friends, to be sure—but the faculty and administration of this institution as well. They bask in the reflected glory of the precious product upon which they have skillfully and devotedly labored. That precious product, of course, is you.

You are a very special graduating class; you are graduating one hundred years after the establishment of the St. George Stake Academy which eventually became Dixie State College. It is a little disturbing to realize that Dixie College had existed only sixteen years when I was born. For that reason, I am confident that my hundred years’ measurement is considerably shorter than yours.

I’d like to begin today by telling you about a beautifully fashioned sculpture I have in my office in Salt Lake City. It was presented to me eight years ago by Larry Miller, who owned the Utah Jazz, and his wife Gail. It depicts a bridge spanning a riverbed. Larry had commissioned the sculpture after I gave a talk in which I used a poem called “The Bridgebuilder.” When one grasps a particular riverbed rock at the front of the sculpture and pulls on it, out comes a tray on which is written the words of the poem. I share the poem with you now, for each time I have contemplated what wisdom I might impart to you today, I have thought of that poem:

                        An old man, going a lone highway,

                        Came at the evening, cold and gray,

                        To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,

                        Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

                        The old man crossed in the twilight dim;

                        The sullen stream had no fears for him;

                        But he turned when safe on the other side

                        And built a bridge to span the tide.

                        “Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

                        “You are wasting strength with building here;

                        Your journey will end with the ending day;

                        You never again must pass this way;

                        You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—

                        Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

                        The builder lifted his old gray head:

                        “Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said

                        “There followeth after me today

                        A youth whose feet must pass this way.

                        This chasm that has been naught to me

                        To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

                        He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.

                        Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.” 1

Although I cannot construct a physical bridge for you who are embarking on your journey through life, let me build for you, the class of 2011, three bridges that will help you cross the chasms “deep and wide.”

The first bridge I wish to build for you is the bridge 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.

During World War II, an experiment concerning the power of suggestion was conducted. Soldiers were asked to grasp a machine as hard as they could, and the power of their grip was measured. On the first try, they averaged 101 pounds per man. Then they were hypnotized and given the negative suggestion that they were weak and sickly, feeble and anemic. They were told to grip the machine as tightly as they could. They averaged 69 pounds per man.

Before they were awakened from their hypnotic trance, they were given the positive message that they were strong, Samson-like and powerful. They were again told to grip the machine as tightly as they could. What do you think was the result? They now averaged 140 pounds per man. This more than doubled their 69 pound grip under the defeatist or negative attitude and was almost forty percent better than their best record in the normal waking state.

I mention William James again. He developed the “as if” principle: If you want a virtue, act as if you already have it. If you want to be brave, act as if you are brave. If you want to be happy, act happy. Change your attitude by trying the “as if” principle. It can work for all of us.

Most of you have heard of John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist, naturalist and painter who was noted for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds. His detailed illustrations depicted the birds in their natural habitat. When I was about ten years old, I served as the president of the Junior Audubon Club at the Grant Elementary School in Salt Lake City. I’ve always loved birds and have enjoyed being able to identify them. 

Well, John James Audubon once left a box containing over 200 of his beautiful drawings of birds at home when he went on a business trip. Upon his return he found that a pair of rats had entered the box and chewed through the paper, destroying years of work. He was devastated and spent weeks nearly paralyzed by grief. One day he awaked and realized that his attitude would have to change. He picked up his notebook and pencils and went out into the woods. “I felt pleased,” he said, “that I might now make better drawings than before.”

My dear graduates, I emphasize again that attitude is all important and can help you make your life the best that it can be.

The second bridge I want to build for you is the bridge of integrity.

As we view the world around us, it’s possible to feel at times that no one is really honest or virtuous or honorable anymore. We see those who seemingly get ahead in life as a result of deceit, through false promises or by cheating others. In the glow of unearned good repute, people are apt to fall prey to self-delusion and think that they can get away with anything. Others who want too badly for all men to speak well of them come to care more about outside opinions than their own actions.

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?”

In a Business Law class where I was a student years ago, I remember that one particular classmate, a popular athlete, never prepared for class. I thought to myself, "How is he going to pass the final?" I discovered the answer when he came to the classroom for the final examination, on a winter's day, wearing a pair of sandals on his feet. I was surprised. I watched him as the exam began. All of his books had been placed upon the floor. He slipped the sandals from his feet; and then, with toes that he had trained and had prepared with glycerine, he skillfully turned the pages of one of the books which he had on the floor, thereby having the answers to the examination questions. 

This student received one of the highest grades in that course on Business Law. But the day of reckoning came. As he prepared to take his comprehensive examination, for the first time the dean of his particular discipline said: "This year I will depart from tradition and will conduct a personal, oral examination rather than a written test." Our favorite, trained-toe expert found that he had his foot in his mouth on that occasion and failed the examination. He was required to remain in school an additional year before he could graduate.

That has been over sixty years ago; but whenever any of us from that law class looks at that particular man, he does not think of the man's abilities on the football field as an all-conference player. Rather, he thinks of him as one who lacked integrity.

What is the point of all the fame and glory if, in the end, we can’t look ourselves in the eye, knowing that we have been honest and true. A poem I learned as a boy is as pertinent today as it was back then. I share with you just the last stanza. Before I do, I must explain that the word “glass,” as used in the poem, refers to a mirror.

                        You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

                        And get pats on the back as you pass;

                        But your final reward will be heartaches and tears

                        If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

The third and final bridge is the bridge of service.

An interesting perspective concerning service comes from Clayton Christensen, an author and Harvard business professor, who has had remarkable professional success, along with some serious health challenges. After all he has experienced, he has concluded, “The measure by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars, but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.” He continues, “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.” 2

During your life you may achieve wealth or fame or social standing. Real success, however, comes from helping others. Said Ralph Waldo Emerson, noted thinker, lecturer, essayist and poet, “To know even one life breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

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.” 3

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.

My young friends, your life will be fuller, richer and happier if you seek for and find opportunities to be of service.

Albert Schweitzer, the noted theologian and missionary physician, declared, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

As I close, may I quote again from “The Bridgebuilder”:

                        There followeth after me today

                        A youth whose feet must pass this way.

                        This stream, which has been as naught to me

                        To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.

                        He, too, must cross in the twilight dim,

                        Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.

Graduates, as you journey forward to meet the challenges life holds for you, remember as you walk over the bridge of attitude to choose happiness for yourself.

That happiness will mean little unless you have learned to walk sure-footedly on the bridge of integrity where, at the end of the day, you can face yourself and know that you have been honest and true.

And whether it be in the morning sun or the twilight dim, the bridge of service will be steady and sure underfoot.

My young friends, these bridges are built for you.

That God may bless you on your journey and that you may successfully cross the “deep and wide” chasms in your life is my prayer for you, in the name of His son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

1.   The Bridgebuilder, by Will Allen Dromgoole

2.   In Jamshid Ghazi Askar, “Y. grad’s life advice goes viral on Web,” Deseret News, August 12, 2010, A6

3.   Richard L. Evans

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