Youth and a Better Future

Baccalaureate Sermon delivered by President David O. McKay before

the Graduating Class of the University of Utah,

Sunday, June 3, 1945.

[3] "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

"For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

"For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

Though in anticipation of this hour, I have permitted myself to suffer a great deal of worry, yet I appreciate as a compliment this opportunity to address the 1945 Graduating Class of the University of Utah. To the good wishes of the faculty, your parents, and a host of friends I add my congratulations and commendation.

Forty-eight years ago I sat as a graduate in the U of U class of 1897!

I remember with what compassionate feelings -- feelings almost akin to pity -- I regarded the poor, old, gray-haired men of seventy and seventy-five! As I looked forward to attaining their maturity, what a long distance it seemed between our joyous twenties, and the decrepit seventies!

Now, having reached that milestone, I wonder at the immaturity of youth to think that a man only three score and ten is old! Surely, age must have been older then than now!

Of one thing, however, we may be sure: That

"Years rush by us like the wind,

We see not whence the eddy comes,

Nor whitherward it is tending

[4] And we seem, ourselves, to witness their flight

Without a sense that we are changed.

Yet time is beguiling man of his strength

As the winds rob the trees of their foliage [sic]."

It is your life ahead of you, and of the responsibilities is entails that I have in mind as I speak of Youth and a Better Future.

The scriptural passages that I have quoted illustrate three human qualities or virtues characteristic of true leadership. These are (1) a consciousness of a righteous cause, (2) an invincible resolution to uphold it, and , (3) the assurance of the One Safe Guide.

Notwithstanding the frequent declarations of many who see only calamities ahead of us, it is our intent this afternoon to consider the making of a Better World. It is surprising how many thoughtful people are speaking and writing ominously of the future. Hayden, for example, warningly writes:

"Today, as never before, mankind is seeking social betterment. Today, as seldom if ever before, human society is threatened with disintegration, if not complete chaos. All the ancient evils of human relationships, injustices, selfishness, abuse of strength, become sinister and terrible when reinforced by the vast increase of material power.

"The soul of man cowers, starved and fearful, in the midst of a civilization grown too complex for any mind to visualize or to control."

And Mr. John C. Mirriam, president of the Carnegie Institute, writes: "Changes that have taken place over the whole world in the past two centuries, make it evident that we are approaching a crisis in which either civilization will collapse or we must discover the formulae necessary for establishing such an understanding [5] among nations as will permit continuity in peace and in constructive effort."

I am hopeful that the younger generation will eventually recognize such "formulae." It is at least justifiable to express such a hope in the presence of youth. The future is yours to make or to mar as you choose. The world is sick of strife; it yearns for peace. Only the perverseness of human nature can darken the oncoming years.

Youth -- conviction -- courage -- a combination potentially capable of determining the kind of world we shall live in. Though not the wisest, youth is the best, the most radiant time of life.

"All possibilities are in its hands

No danger daunts it, and no foe withstands,

In its sublime audacity of faith,

'Be thou removed,' it to the mountain saith,

And with sublime feet, secure and proud,

Ascends the ladder leaning on the cloud."

The Future

Occasionally, even during the tender years, the reality of the present is slightly disturbed by fancy flights of thought into the uncertain future -- and by the time graduation comes the fact that you must take a part therein becomes a sure as the course of the sun toward the western sky. Facing that future, as you do today, you might well exclaim with King Henry IV: "O heavens! that one might read the book of fate, and see the revolution of the times!"

Even while the glories of youthful prime gladden your hearts and brighten your hopes with anticipated success, there rests unfelt upon your shoulders the weight of a coming responsibility. Yours the challenge to shape the future. Into your hands and in the hands of a [6] million other youths will be placed the banner of civilization.

Courage

To carry it successfully forward will demand courage, or what Luke calls "the boldness of Peter and John," -- that quality of mind which enables on to encounter danger and to overcome difficulties. It is a virtue admired by everybody. Our souls have been stirred, and our eyes filled with tears as we have heard of the military courage of our boys in uniform. We thrill even at spontaneous courage as it leaps forth in time of crisis. But the courage I would have youth possess, as they take their part in the better future, is neither physical nor military -- it is the fearlessness to act in accordance with their convictions. Courage to do right whether alone or in public -- courage to be true to a trust.

Youth's Responsibility

"There are approximately a million full-time and part-time college students enrolled in the United States. Nearly forty-five thousand will graduate this May and June. If it were possible to obtain the dominantly motivating idea of that group, we could pretty definitely determine the future of our government. "The destiny of any nation," says Goethe, "at any given time, may be determined by the thoughts of the young men under twenty-five."

In the "Lady of the Lake," when Roderick Dhu would summon his clansmen to battle, he placed the fiery cross in the hands of a valiant henchman. No mountain crest, no trembling bog or false morass could halt this trusted courier in the speedy performance of his assigned task. His duty performed, he passed the fiery torch to the second courier, the heir of Duncan's line, who, leaving the funeral rites of his deceased sire, accepted the trust, and even in the face of death [7] paused not an instant until he had placed the symbol in the hands of his successor. Though Norman's bridal vows had just been spoken, Clan Alpine's cause, his chieftain's trust, took precedence.

As to these young men was successively given the charge to summon Clan Alpine's warriors, so there has come successively to youth through the ages, a transferred trust to carry forward the cause of humanity. The passing of this responsibility from one generation to another, unlike Scott's story, has been imperceptible, and lingered along sometimes for years, but the responsibility has been definite as that which passed from Clan Alpine's courier to courier.

Nor can youth evade that responsibility if they would. When it comes they may as recreants refuse to go forward, or even turn in an opposite direction as traitors to their trust, but onward or backward, each generation marks success or failure in man's struggle upward.

Early Training Determines Progression or Retrogression/h2>

Whether youth's contributive acts will be progressive or retrogressive, cultural or beastly, will depend largely upon the kind of training given by those who place the banner in their hands.

A striking example of this has been enacted as if in drama within the last quarter of a century. Blinded by false ideals and fired by vain ambition, a paranoiac, with the power of a once mighty nation behind him, said: "The plow will be the sword, and the bread of posterity will be watered by the tears of war." And again, . . . "What I am after is a violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey."

It seems incredible that leaders of [8] a reputably cultured people could, in less than a generation, step back to barbarism and revel in bestiality. And that, too, in an age when advancement in material sciences exceeds all other ages in the world's history.

Civilization Imperiled

As a consequence of that return to barbarism nations are grappling at one another's throats in a death struggle. Millions of persons lie dead, wounded, and unaccounted for. Homes have been blown to splinters, and their occupants left to wander helplessly and aimlessly, facing starvation and death. Men defeated have been compelled to labor for their conquerors. Nations once free have lost their independence. Millions of people have been forced to surrender all guarantees of personal liberty. Art galleries, monuments, historic buildings, and cities containing treasures of untold value to humanity have been ruthlessly destroyed. The holocaust of war continues and innocent men, women, and children are being maimed, mangled, and murdered. Man has subdued the earth, harnessed the waves, conquered the air. His slightest whisper encircles the globe in a second. He controls the mightiest forces of nature and commands them to contribute to his comforts and whims. But all this material advancement has brought man neither safety, security, nor peace. These marvelous inventions which make New York and London eight-hour neighbors, and the antipodes but a six-day trip -- which enables us to sit in comfortable chairs, and see the struggle of nations and the crumbling of empires -- all these are not yet making secure the progress and happiness of man. Something is lacking. What is it?

"Unifying Ideal" Lacking

They lack an unfailing Guide -- a Divine Ideal. "The world has many good people in it today, more, we are ready to [9] believe, than ever before," writes Dr. Batten, the author of "The Social Task of Christianity." "But these people possess no unifying ideal, no organic principle, no coherent view of life, no synthetic program of action. Society is coming to self-consciousness, and is beginning to take note of its troubles and needs. But it has no clear sense of direction, no organizing impulse, no all-inclusive ideal, no mighty impulsion. . . .

"The great need of today is some social ideal which shall put meaning into man's life, and courage into his heart, some synthesis which shall unite mankind into one body and marshal them as one army to confront the ills of the world, and to seek the perfection of society."

And Dr. Charles A. Ellwood in "Man's Social Destiny" confirms this view as follows:

"Our civilization is imperiled today simply because it is ill-balanced. Our spiritual culture lags so far behind our material culture in its development that we have no adequate control over the latter. Our science, our education, and our government can do much to help correct this lag in our spiritual development. But in the main this must be done, if done at all, by religion and by the Church. For religion is the creator and the conservator of our social ideals; and the Church is their chief propagator."

Conquest or Chaos

The end of World War II seems to be in sight. Bursting bombs, burning airplanes, sinking ships, are becoming fewer. The victory of individual freedom over dictatorship is temporarily assured. A million young Americans, and millions of others have given their lives that the world may have another chance to live decently. Theirs is the conquest, ours the responsibility. Man makes war -- man can end war if he will.

[10] From the hands of those million dead come to the Youth now living the banner and charge to carry forward to yet greater conquests. The dominant motive in man and in nations is still self-preservation, self-advancement, self-comfort without consideration for the welfare of others, material achievements, accumulation of money, accentuation of power at the subjugation, even the enslavement of the individual. From the root of selfishness spring all the pestilential vices that disrupt the harmony of human relationships. Envy, hatred, greed, bigotry, the exercising of unrighteous dominion in governing men and crushing them, unrestrained passion, ungoverned appetites, drunkenness and debauchery -- these are enemies to be conquered in the better future.

You may call it a Utopian dream, if you will, but selfishness must be subdued before mankind can experience peace. No peace or freedom can come to this world so long as men live only for themselves. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but it is not a law of spiritual growth. He who lets selfishness and his passions rule him binds his soul in slavery, but he who, in the majesty of spiritual strength, uses his physical tendencies and yearnings, and his possessions to serve purposes higher than personal indulgence and comfort, takes the first step toward the happy and useful life.

This truth was taught not only "in the beginning" when the gospel was first revealed to man, but also when Jesus began his earthly ministry. On the Mount of Temptation was enacted the first scene in Christ's earthly drama of the abundant life. There he resisted the challenge to gratify his appetite; he turned aside the appeal to his vanity and pride; he scorned the bribe of worldly wealth and power as in spiritual victory he said to the Tempter: "Get thee hence." [11] Only thus by the brilliant triumph of the spirit over the flesh can we hope for a better world.

Human Nature must be Changed

Your fellow alumni of four years ago accepted the challenge, and have met in deadly conflict dictatorship and inhuman aggression. Thus far they have won a glorious victory, but many will fight no more. Others are too maimed to continue longer the struggle.

Yours now the task to carry on!

Down through the ages men have retreated before the formidable enemies you now face; and thinkers, and some philosophers declare hopelessly that these enemies cannot be conquered, except only by changing human nature, and that, they insist, cannot be done.

I believe with the English writer, Beverly Nichols, that it can be done, and that "human nature can be changed, here and now.

"Human nature has been changed in the past.

"Human nature must be changed on an enormous scale, in the future, unless the world is to be drowned in its own blood.

"And only Christ can change it. . .

"Twelve men did quite a lot to change the world, nineteen hundred years ago. Twelve simple men, with only the wind to bear them over the seas, with only a few pence in their pockets, and a shining faith in their hearts. They fell far short of their ideal, their words were twisted and mocked, and false temples were built over their bones, in praise of a Christ they would have rejected. And yet, by the light of their inspiration many of the world's loveliest things were created, and many of the world's finest minds inspired.

"If twelve men did that, nineteen hundred years ago, what might not twelve men do today? For God has now given [12] us the power of whispering across space, of transmitting our thoughts from one end of the earth to another. What shall we whisper. -- What shall we think? That is the question?"

Need of a Guiding Light

In the incident depicted by our test, Peter courageously declares what we shall think, what we shall declare: That "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Moulders of a better future need the assurance that Christ is the unfailing guide.

The Nazi creed advanced the conception that a self-centered, "super-race" might dominate the world by the application of material achievements divorced from religious or even ethical considerations. "It accented power, authority, and obedience, but denied human equality and the worth of the individual." Nazi youth fought for these false ideals with fanatical zeal.

Even more fanatical are the Japanese who, in suicidal waves, face explosive infernos for the glory of their empire.

Courage alone is not sufficient; a firm conviction is not sufficient. There must be the assurance that the conviction is in harmony with justice, with truth and righteousness.

Dominant Principles in the Better Future

At San Francisco there are representatives from 50 nations earnestly and conscientiously seeking to formulate plans that will end war and establish a lasting peace. There assembled are men of different political views, and of varying opinions as to the best form of government. But no matter what their political differences may be, if they would but apply fundamental Christian principles, for example, the age-old formula "do unto others as you would have others do [13] unto you," the objectives of the conference would be attained.

Likewise others of Christ's teachings, containing unchanging principles eternally operative in this changing world, should be applied by all who would work sincerely for a better future. For example, consider how contributive to the ending of the war would be the application by individuals and nations of just two of the divine injunctions relating to arbitration and mutual happiness:

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

"But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." (Matthew 18:15,16)

Though man may not overcome selfishness entirely, if, as conflicts arise, he would but subdue it sufficiently to submit to Christ's principle of arbitration, brute force, as manifested in this military conflict would cease.

Again, Jesus taught that men and women fail to live truly, and really amount to nothing unless they have spirituality. The spiritual force underlies everything, and without it nothing worthwhile can be accomplished. "Spiritual needs can be met only by spiritual means. All government, laws, methods, and organizations are of no value unless men and women are filled with truth, righteousness, and mercy. Material things have no power to raise the sunken spirit. Gravitation, electricity, and steam are great forces, but they are all powerless to change the motives of men and women. The wealth of a Rockefeller cannot heal a broken heart, and the wisdom of all our universities cannot turn into the paths of righteousness a wayward soul. Men can be born again only through religion."

[14] Young men and young women, the future awaits you! It is yours! If you would end war and give peace to the world, you have campaigns to organize, and conquests to achieve. These are campaigns planned for the establishments of justice -- these are conquests of the soul. Whether it is better to walk along the easy road of selfishness and indulgence than to strive through self-mastery and service for the realm of spirituality you must decide. "Whether it is better to serve God than man, judge ye."

In the words of John Oxenham:

"God grant us wisdom in these coming days,

* * *

To pledge our souls with nobler, loftier life,

To win the world to His fair sanctities,

To bind the nations in a Pact of Peace,

And free the Soul of Life for finer loyalties.

Not since Christ died upon His lonely cross,

Has time such prospect held of Life's new birth;

Not since the world of chaos first was born

Has man so clearly visaged hope of a new earth.

Not of our own might can we hope to rise

Above the ruts and soilures of the past,

But, with His help who did the first earth build,

With hearts courageous we may fairer build this last.

-David O. McKay (June, 1945), Baccalaureate Sermon, University of Utah.

(BYU Spec. Collections, Americana BX 8608.A1 #2694)