Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stake Conference talk - Sept. 11, 2011

My topic today is Lifelong Education.

You young people are fully involved with your education, so my topic necessarily makes me focus on continuing education AFTER you leave school. But, to you young people I say this one thing – if there is one subject you really want to try but it isn’t in your regular course of study, figure out a way to TAKE IT! I always wanted to try out fencing, but for various reasons I didn’t. I should have. For you, there will never be a better time.

So, I have 4 things to say about Life-long education:

1. It’s not too late and your mind works fine

2. It’s all about interest

3. There are more ways to skin a cat than with a dull butter knife

4. Why bother?

First thing: It’s not too late and your mind works fine

When I was young, I was thrilled to be able to go to BYU. We lived about 90 miles from the Y, in a very small town. Provo was like a dream for me, and I loved every minute of it.

My second year at the Y was my Mother’s first year going back to school. She had been there as a young woman, earned her teaching certificate, and was teaching school when she met my father. But she only had a 2-year degree and wanted to get a bachelor’s degree. It was a tough decision to go back, especially since she still had kids at home. The three youngest ones, especially, worried her. She felt like she might be abandoning them. In the end it was arranged and my youngest sister came to the Y with Mom while my youngest brothers stayed with Dad, along with the older kids. Mom missed them terribly while she was away.

Mom was scared of whether she could complete college courses at her age – she was in her 50’s then.

I saw Mom on campus fairly often, which was great. We settled in to the regular grind of classes and studying.

Mom put me to shame with how hard she studied. She focused on her school work so much that she had no social life beyond Suzy and me. That first semester she was learning how to be a student and at first her grades were only acceptable. After that she hit her groove and got A’s. She fussed and worried one time when she got an A-.

The next year, I started my hitch in the Marine Corps, married Liz, and came back to the Y in December, three years later. My first semester back at the Y was my Mom’s last, so Liz and I were there for her graduation. The college reserved a row for us at commencement. During the program, the Dean had Mom stand up as a special tribute to the most senior graduate from the Y that year, and an honor student. Then he asked the family to stand. My father stood up, all 9 of their children, 3 of our spouses, and 5 grandkids. I mentioned that they reserved a row for us, and we’d filled the whole thing. It was a long row, too.

My mother had worried that it was too late for her to go back to school. She had found that it was not. She outperformed almost every 18 and 19 year old there. In truth, it was her focus and dedication that earned her top marks. Her age forced her to study harder to keep up with her younger classmates, but her age had also taught her how to do just that. It was not too late.

I, too, had a later-in-life education experience. A few years ago I took a class in human anatomy and physiology – just for giggles. My experience was like my mothers. I had to work hard, but I didn’t settle for less than perfect grades.

The old noodle still works, even if it is a bit slower than it used to be.

Second thing: It’s all about interest

Many of you who know me, know that I keep honeybees. Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. People often ask me, “But don’t you get stung?” I answer that of course I get stung. In fact, I get stung often. When I have to work with Africanized bees, I get stung a LOT! The thing is that I don’t mind getting stung in return for the reward of honey to share with my family and friends, and it is my pleasure to do so.

I enjoy reading about beekeeping. Many books about it are written by rank amateurs, but I like them anyway, because they have insights and tidbits of knowledge about my favorite subject.

I find that the more I learn about them, the more I want to learn about them. There is no end to this process, and it applies to more than just beekeeping.

We all have things that interest us. There are very few of you who are interested in bees, but there is something that interests each one of you as much as bees interest me. Well, maybe almost as much as bees interest me.

On the subject of lifelong education, there is no mention of a requirement to learn about honeybees. We, each of us, get to choose the subjects. We should continue to educate ourselves about whatever subjects interest us. The subjects we love the most, are the subjects at which we have the will and means to continue to learn more. If you put me in a room and forced me to memorize baseball statistics, I would think it pure torture. But I guarantee there are people in this hall who would think it a delight to be in that situation. Who would lap it up like sweetened milk and use the knowledge as the base for a lifelong pursuit of that interest.

All we have to do is continue with the things we already enjoy. But if we fail to continue to learn, then we will begin the process of forgetting what we knew. This is one of those use it or loose it things.

All of us who sit on the stand today hope that everybody in this building will spend some time learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, in addition to other things we learn. But even on that topic, there is room for individual focus. Many of us love family and focus on genealogy, or family histories. Others of us love the scriptures and pour over them daily. Some spend their time with the organizations of the church, others on pure service. Some devour every word spoken by latter day prophets.

All of these things are good. We should each continue our lifelong education about the gospel.

Third thing: There are more ways to skin a cat than with a dull butter knife

I told you about experiences going back to college. I don’t mean that you should all sign up for classes tomorrow. College is a very formal method of learning about something. It is particularly appropriate when we need proof that we have mastered a topic. It is one of the best ways to start your professional life. But in most cases proof of knowledge is not needed. The knowledge itself is the thing.

There are many ways to continue our lifelong education. More than I can list here today. But I will list a few ways to illustrate the point.

· Back in the olden days we had books called The Encyclopedia. I loved sitting and reading the Encyclopedia – it was full of interesting things. A few years ago, Liz and I threw our Encyclopedia Brittanica away. Today, we surf the web. Today, we say IT is full of interesting things. It is also full of garbage, but remember, we get to choose our subject. Go forth and learn!

· Join a book club. Book clubs are for people who need a little nudge to get started reading books. Liz is in a book club that meets once a month to discuss a book everybody read since the prior meeting. The members are mostly LDS and the books are all suitable for LDS readers.

· Personally, I love to read and need help stopping, instead of help getting started. When I pick up the 23 volume set of books by Patrick O’Brien, Liz will roll her eyes because she knows I will be “out of the house” until I have read them all. I am an unabashed reader.

· When we can’t read, we can listen to audio books. I find that driving to Utah is a fast and enjoyable drive when I have a book playing. Of course, if Liz is along we find things to talk about and never play our audio book. That’s even better.


Fourth thing: Why bother?

By this I mean what are the reasons to continue our lifelong education. In the end, I think the reasons boil down to two: We pursue lifelong education for our work, or we continue lifelong education just for fun. Beekeeping was my example of learning just for fun.

Work is a very good reason why we learn. Our employment is the basis for our daily security. It gives us our homes, our food, our clothing and shelter. It can make life good or it can make it hard. I’ve tried it both ways, and good is better.

As our children left home, Liz, who had been a full-time homemaker, began to look around for something to do with the rest of her life. She wanted to have a credit score of her own in case anything ever happened to me. And she wanted an income that did not depend on me. These were legitimate concerns.

We addressed the credit score by taking out car loans in her name only, and obtaining credit cards with only her name. We paid them off as we have always paid off our debts. That part was easy. The employment was a bit more complicated.

She had not worked since we were first married, and did not feel very qualified for anything. After all, I plucked her away from her college education after only 1 year. When she had worked, it had been in an office capacity.

So she started looking for office work and landed a job as an accounts payable clerk in a small investment firm, involved in multi-family housing. It was a starter job by anybody’s account.

The next few years were intense for her. She took a class in basic accounting and found that she had a better head for mathematics than she had supposed. This surprised her father, who had tried to coach her through high school math classes.

She has always been very organized, and she applied her organization skills to her job. She flourished.

As she got better at her work, she was given more responsibility. The company expanded their holdings in commercial office space and she accepted responsibility for the day to day operation of a building – then another.

She learned how to calculate square footage, and apply it to rates to give quotes – all in her head while talking to clients. She learned how to sell.

As she moved on to more and more responsibility, she decided she needed a realtors license, so she studied and passed that exam. She has grown immensely in her abilities and today manages about a half million square feet of office space.

She has grown in her employment, but she has also found great satisfaction in being able to do things she did not believe were possible for her. She is continuing with her lifelong education, and I am very proud of her.

I’ve talked about

1. That it’s not too late for lifelong education at any age, even for college

2. That it’s all about your interests and that you get to choose the course of your lifelong education

3. That there is more than one way to skin a cat and

4. Why we bother to make education a lifelong pursuit

It is my prayer that we may all continue to learn and grow in the gospel and other areas of life.