Superintendent Sweat's Graduation Speech
In 1877, a 17-year-old young man by the name of Benjamin Cluff Jr. was working as the city librarian in the small town of Coalville, Utah, located 65 miles west of where we are this morning. Young Benjamin, who had grown up the son of a carpenter and farmer, had felt the pull to do something different than his father. He was excited for the opportunity to become the librarian and delighted at the thought of perusing all the books the library held.
After working in this capacity for a time, growing his thirst for knowledge to even greater heights, Benjamin packed a small bundle of clothing and an umbrella and set out on foot for the recently established Brigham Young Academy in Provo. His father, who had established a good farm in Heber Valley, offered Benjamin one-third interest in that farm if he would stay and help run it—this was after he had left Coalville but before he had begun his studies at the Academy. To this generous offer Benjamin replied, “If you release me to go to school, I will never ask you for assistance.”
Keeping to his word, Benjamin not only enrolled as a student, but also took a job as a custodian at the Academy to make ends meet.
After some time as a student, Benjamin traveled east for a higher education at the University of Michigan. After completing his degree, he travelled back home to Utah, returning to the Academy in 1892 as a member of the faculty. Later, he was named the third principal of BYA. Under Benjamin’s direction and leadership, Brigham Young Academy officially became Brigham Young University in 1903, making Benjamin Cluff Jr. the first president of this magnificent university. This remarkable life-path that starts with Benjamin as the school custodian and ends with him as the university president is not just for the history books. Similar paths are present today.
You, like Benjamin Cluff Jr., have been led away from the many other career paths you could have chosen to that of becoming an educator. He had a great work that he was meant to accomplish. Benjamin Cluff Jr.’s rejection of his father’s offer of one-third interest in the family farm not only transformed his life but the lives of thousands of people, including you and me, as graduates of this university. The most exciting part about that notion is the tremendous journey each of you has before you—a path that is replete with opportunities to change the lives of hundreds and even thousands of students for good.
I love educators. I love working with them, and I love watching them work with students. One of the primary reasons I love them is for the strong, ever-present attitude of self-efficacy. Yes, you as educators believe in your ability to do good and believe in your ability to change the lives of children. You believe in your own self-efficacy, or you wouldn’t be here. As I look out across these rows of graduates, it gives me goose bumps to consider your cumulative potential to do good and to change the lives of so many children who will end up in your classrooms.
You are about to become a part of the greatest institution this country knows: K–12 education! Public education gives every student throughout the land the opportunity to improve his or her station in life.
This work will not be easy; it will be the most difficult work you have ever done. It will also be the most rewarding.
You are well prepared! I know this firsthand; I know that you are the best of the best. I have a message for each of you today: Go forth with confidence!
To help me properly convey this message, I turn to the words of Elder Jeffery R. Holland, a current Apostle and the ninth president of this university. In 1999, on this campus, he delivered a devotional entitled “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence.” The title itself—words spoken by the Apostle Paul—conveys a strong message, a message that the leaders of the Church, the prophet, and even our Savior and Heavenly Father want us to go forth with confidence; they want you as new teachers to trust in your abilities, your training, and your instincts.
I can assure you, the superintendents, principals, fellow teachers, and students whom you will work with are excited to have you. We welcome your youthful exuberance, your penchant to try new things, and your willingness to work together on a team. We also welcome the fact that who you are as a person will become part of the school culture you are about to join.
The BYU–Public School Partnership that my district, Wasatch County School District, is a part of has five commitments that we hold together as a group. They are
equitable access for all students,
stewardship in school and community, and
commitment to renewal.
We as administrators strive to provide an organizational framework that will enable you as teachers to actually do this very important work. Access to knowledge and engaged learning are important concepts for us. For you, it will be a big part of your daily work—and often a daily struggle. Yes, those first days and first years can be extra tough. Teaching is a difficult profession, but like most things in life, the greater the struggle, the greater the reward.
Sadly, many trained educators choose to leave the profession early in their careers. The struggle becomes too great, and they leave before the rewards are evident. I plead with you to stay the course. You are badly needed; the children of America need you. Please remember back to that moment of enlightenment that originally set you on this path. Do not let a difficult day, week, or even year drive you away from what you have spent so much time preparing to do.
Let us return to the words of Elder Holland during his inspired address to the students of this campus. He said, “Don’t assume that a great revelation, some marvelous illuminating moment, or the opening of an inspired path is the end of it. . . . There is one who personifies ‘opposition in all things,’ . . . ‘[one who seeks] the misery of all mankind.’” Lucifer himself does not want you to be an educator; when the going gets tough, he wants you to doubt your career and drop out.
The example that Elder Holland so eloquently used to demonstrate this point is that of Moses being taken up to an exceedingly high mountain where he saw God face to face, and the glory of God was upon him. The scripture says that Moses “beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the spirit of God” (Moses 1:27). Elder Holland referred to it as one of the greatest accounts we have of any prophet’s experience with divinity. What happened next seems unbelievable. Lucifer himself showed up, demanding that Moses worship him (Moses 1:12). The two had quite an exchange, but of course Moses wasn’t having any of it. If Lucifer was so bold to approach Moses after he had just seen God, it is easy to understand that he will certainly approach us before we are about to accomplish great things, even after we have made important life decisions, even after we have received personal revelation and witnessed the opening of an inspired path before us.
Elder Holland went on to remind us, and I quote, “We cannot sign on for a moment of such eternal significance and everlasting consequence without knowing it will be a fight—a good fight and a winning fight, but a fight nevertheless.” Then comes this tremendous counsel again from the Apostle Paul, found in Hebrews: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. . . . If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition” (Hebrews 10:35–36, 38–39).
Graduates, just like Benjamin Cluff Jr., you have an important life’s work awaiting you. Yes, even great things to accomplish and many young lives to influence for good. But please know that “it will be a fight—a good fight and a winning fight, but a fight nonetheless.” “Cast not away therefore your confidence. . . . We are not of them who draw back.”
Thank you, and may Heavenly Father bless you and your career in education.
Writer: Paul Sweat