Academic Responsibility

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At an educational conference a few years ago, a speaker told of sitting in a bus on his way home from work and overhearing a conversation between two laborers who were in the seat in front of him. They were obviously elated at the thought of some overtime work that had been promised them, and they were hard at work in trying to figure out what next week’s paycheck would be. One man listed the hourly rate that they were being paid and—to the side—the number of hours of work that had been promised to them.

At this point he turned to his companion and asked, a bit dubiously, if his friend knew how to multiply. After a moment’s hesitation, the friend took the paper and pencil, wrote the number of hours beneath the hourly rate, drew a line under both, and placed an x to the side. Then he waited expectantly; they both waited. Nothing happened. Finally, the one who had hoped to set the multiplication in motion by writing an x to the side of his problem crumpled the paper disgustedly and said to his companion, “That’s what’s wrong with multiplication; you’ve got to know the answer before you begin the problem.”

We smile sympathetically at such frustration because we share it whenever we fail to begin at the beginning. If we have not learned to add, the relative sophistication of multiplying will escape us. If we neglect faith—the first principle of the gospel—true repentance is simply not generated. Those we honor here today are persuasive evidence of what skilled and dedicated Latter-day Saints can do and be. If we would emulate them—their lives and their achievements—we must prepare ourselves to succeed.

We are told, poetically, that “the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” As good poetry always should, this suggests more than it seems to say. For while it bids us to appreciate the vision of youth, it also hints at a major limitation of the juvenile: his willingness to be satisfied with a single dimension. “Long” thoughts may be profound, but they are often only tenuous. The breadth and depth that make an adult out of an adolescent, that unite vision with judgment, are earned—and learned. There are no short cuts and few substitutions. Apprenticeship precedes mastery, and first steps may not be very sure.

 

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