My son graduated this week! Our final, fifth experience. On the upside it wasn’t 100 degrees on the bleachers, nor did it rain- because no event was held. On the downside, it was a furthering of the Class of 2020’s experience in missing out.
Our High School has a Baccalaureate ceremony on a Sunday preceding graduation. It is always excellent – except of course, this year. For those who aren’t familiar with the term in this usage, it is a “a sermon to a graduating class.” (link)
Since my son didn’t get one this year, I figured I would take it upon myself to write my own baccalaureate sermon for him and anyone else who feels like reading it. Here goes:
Brothers and sisters of the Class of 2020: Man, you guys got ripped off! Big Time! But you all know that. So, rather than talk about it, I will simply point to a comic that is older than I am that I feel exemplifies the Class of 2020: Lucy pulling to football away from Charlie Brown, just as he is ready to kick it.
Sometimes life does not work out as planned, and there is nothing you can do about it. It is one of life’s brutal lessons, and you were taught it in spades the past few months. What I would like to talk to you about is not about looking back, but looking forward to your futures.
What does that future look like to you? What will you be chasing next? Fame? Fortune?
One of my favorite people wrote about what things we pursue, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Now, before you dismiss him with an “O.K. Boomer,” know that he was born way before the Boomers, and has already moved past this earth life. Back when I had just finished my first year of college and was three months into my mission, he gave a talk that I think applies more today than it did back in 1980 when he gave it. I’m gonna to pull a large swath from that talk, “The Gift.”
It is the understanding of almost everyone that success, to be complete, must include a generous portion of both fame and fortune as essential ingredients.
The world seems to work on that premise. The premise is false. It is not true. The Lord taught otherwise.
I want you, our children, to know this truth: You need not be either rich or hold high position to be completely successful and truly happy.
In fact, if these things come to you, and they may, true success must be achieved in spite of them, not because of them.
It is remarkably difficult to teach this truth. If one who is not well known, and not well compensated, claims that he has learned for himself that neither fame nor fortune are essential to success, we tend to reject his statement as self-serving. What else could he say and not count himself a failure?
If someone who has possession of fame or fortune asserts that neither matters to success or happiness, we suspect that his expression is also self-serving, even patronizing.
Therefore, we will not accept as reliable authorities either those who have fame and fortune, or those who have not. We question that either can be an objective witness.
That leaves only one course open to us: trial and error—to learn for oneself, by experience, about prominence and wealth or their opposites.
We thereafter struggle through life, perhaps missing both fame and fortune, to finally learn one day that one can, indeed, succeed without possessing either. Or we may, one day, have both and learn that neither has made us happy; neither is basic to the recipe for true success and for complete happiness. That is a very slow way to learn.
Yes, I know that is a lot to process. All of your lives you’ve received a lot of recognition for even the smallest things. (Pre-School graduation, anyone?) In a day where people strive to be “instagram-Famous,” and know just for the sake of being known, Elder Packer makes it very clear that fame and fortune are not the “end all.”
You are at the stage of life where you will be deciding what to chase next. Elder Packer wants us to know that success and happiness are not linked to fame and fortune. If that is what we are chasing, we are chasing the wrong things.
Over the past months you have missed graduation ceremonies, prom coronations, sports championships and banquets, choir and orchestra concerts and tours, and a host of other recognitions and awards. All of those honors were taken away. That is a weird experience when those traditions are upended.
But there might be something good that can be learned from the experience, and that is this: It is good to know what accomplishing something feels like without receiving praise and recognition for it. Some accomplishments are important enough to stand on their own merit without everyone making a fuss.
Life does not always reward us openly. Sometimes we can work hard and accomplish, and the world just doesn’t seem to notice. That does not diminish the effort – it enhances it.
The scriptures are full of teachings that show that the Lord would rather we don’t make a fuss:
Behold, there are many called but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men… (D&C 121:34-35)
Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world? (Mormon 8:38)
President Nelson recently taught, “the honors of men, exhilarating as they may seem at the time, fade into oblivion compared to what the Lord has in store for covenant-keeping children—the supernal gift of eternal life. That’s the greatest of all of God’s gifts.” (link)
In God’s eyes, fame and fortune are not “all that,” because He has something much greater in mind for us. When we figure that out, the next part of Elder Packer’s talk makes more sense.
We want our children and their children to know that the choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil, and that is a very different matter indeed.
When we finally understand this lesson, thereafter our happiness will not be determined by material things. We may be happy without them or successful in spite of them. (link)
Happiness and success are not connected to fame and fortune – they are connected to choosing good over evil.
This is true.
Even more than that, I can testify that some of the greatest accomplishments of my life are things that no one will ever know about. I won’t tell you now, as I will never tell anyone, or write about. Ever. Why? Because they happened in sacred places such as the bishop’s office, or a temple.
Those sacred accomplishments brought me happiness, even joy. I consider the most important parts of my life’s resume to be “heavily redacted” but that’s okay, because I know, and I know the Lord knows. I don’t need a parade, or a certificate, or a ceremony, or 400 photos uploaded to social media to make them any more real.
Many times Jesus preferred to do His good works privately, with little fanfare, and asks us to do the same.
These past months have given you some practice in that. How did it feel? Are you secure enough in your accomplishments that you are okay that you didn’t get the praise and hype that comes with most any accomplishment nowadays? Or will you forever feel cheated, like it is somehow incomplete?
Could your response set a precedent for your life?
As you enter the world as adults, you have countless choices. Some will pursue fame and fortune, other will pursue good, and sadly, some will pursue evil.
You young men, and many of you young women, will have an opportunity to choose which type of person you are, and what you will pursue when it comes time for missionary service. There you will have experiences of doing good with little or no fanfare. (Which I believe is the primary reason the prophets have asked us to tone down farewells and parties before missions,) You will also find happiness and success that you may never feel the need to share with anyone: The Lord’s recognition will suffice.
Are you secure enough in your quest for good to ignore the masses waving and shouting praise from the Great and Spacious Building?
Can you find joy in the journey and accomplishment without someone telling you how awesome you are?
Can you the experience of genuine service and tuck it in your pocket, like a gold nugget, for your private collection?
If so, we are on our way to understanding how the Lord wants us to go about His work.
If we pursue good over evil, what will be the payoff? Elder Uchtdorf teaches it this way:
God’s greatest reward goes to those who serve without expectation of reward. It goes to those who serve without fanfare; those who quietly go about seeking ways to help others; those who minister to others simply because they love God and God’s children. (link)
You members of the Class of 2020 received little fanfare for your accomplishments, but, you also received an opportunity to see what success is like without the fanfare and praise of the world. What have you learned from it?
Elder Packer taught that “the choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil“
You have a chance to learn those truths now, as you are just starting out. Truths that many do not understand, even as they are looking back at the end of their lives.
Pursue Good. Don’t worry about what the world thinks – you’ve already established that you don’t need the praise and honors of men to get the job done. Retweets and likes don’t make you successful. Awards and trophies don’t bring happiness. When you pursue good, you will know. God will know. And that is enough.
Congratulations on reaching this huge hinge-point in your lives. The paths set out before you are countless, please ignore all of them except one.