What Every Freshman Should Know
September 1973

“What Every Freshman Should Know,” Ensign, Sept. 1973, 32

What Every Freshman Should Know

The following address was given by Elder Boyd K. Packer at the Utah State University baccalaureate services June 8, 1973. For the interest of Latter-day Saint college students, as well as parents of college-age students, we reprint in full this insightful and stimulating address.
—The Editors

I am grateful to be here and grateful for that prayer by the Reverend Mr. Lawson. He touched upon the theme to which I should like to speak tonight.

To begin with, I think I should relieve you graduates of some anxiety by quoting a bit of verse appropriate for this occasion.

The month of June approaches,

And soon throughout the land,

The graduation speakers

Will tell us where we stand.

We stand at Armageddon,

In the vanguard of the press.

We’re standing at the crossroads,

At the gateway to success.

We’re standing on the threshold

Of careers all brightly lit,

But in the midst of all this standing,

We sit, and sit, and sit.

—Laurence Eisenlohr

The genius who composed that entitled it, appropriately enough, “Oh, My Aching Baccalaureate.” I thought it would help a little if you knew that I know what it means to be killing one’s self by degrees!

Now we are convened as a baccalaureate service. The word baccalaureate has two meanings. It is the bachelor’s degree, and it is likewise defined as “a sermon to a graduating class.” I underline the word sermon. This is the part of your graduation program that invites attention to the spiritual nature of man; and well may we give attention to it, for it is the most neglected part of our nature.

I suppose my talk might be entitled “What Every Freshman Should Know.” It may seem backward to be telling you now, as graduates, what every freshman should know, but perhaps it will test you to see if you know, as seniors, what a freshman should know. Then, of course, with this commencement you become freshmen again, in life.

With this commencement you graduate now from one of the finest universities in the world. Your lives have no doubt been influenced, as mine was here, by the excellent example of members of the faculty. For them I have the greatest respect.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I emphasize that my remarks tonight refer to schools in general, to the universities throughout the world, and not to this one alone.

Standards have changed much in our universities. Through the influence of a few, restrictions on dormitory living have been pulled down. Standards have been abandoned in favor of coeducational living in university housing.

New courses are being introduced in many universities, under the general heading “Alternatives to Marriage.” Some of those alternatives, if accepted, would give our communities kinship with the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The trend sees enrollments declining, endowments withheld (some withdrawn), a loss of confidence in our system of higher education, and worse than that, the graduates from many institutions of higher learning are moving into private and public life well-trained, technically proficient, even talented, but somehow without that attribute of character called integrity.

Graduation is a time for assessment and appreciation for things gained at school. At the dorm and at the apartment you are sorting through things that have accumulated during your school days. Some, such as old work books and test papers, will be discarded. Others you will carry away with you.

The question I ask the graduate is this: In all the review of what you have gained, are you giving any attention to the things you may have lost? If you knew the value of some things you may have discarded, you would dig frantically through the wastebasket and trash can to rescue them before they are hauled away permanently.

You came to college basically to gain an occupation, and likely you have earned it. But as always, there was a price to pay, and occasionally we pay an exorbitant price. Not infrequently a college student will jettison things essential to life and end up well-occupied but unhappy.

Did you come as a freshman with idealism, and put it aside?

Did you come with faith, and carry away in its place skepticism?

Did you come with patriotism, and replace it with cynicism?

Did you come free from any binding habits, and now leave with an addiction?

Did you arrive aspiring for marriage, a home, and a family, and now have abandoned those aspirations?

And critically important, did you come with virtue and moral purity, and now must admit to yourself that while you were here you have lost it?

How did this happen? Was that an essential price to pay for an occupation or for broadened cultural horizons? The intangibles you carry away may not equal in value the intangibles you may be leaving behind.

If they are gone now, do you know how it happened? Did you give them up willingly? Did you set them aside, or were they taken from you? Have you been the victim of an academic confidence game?

The large body of university professors in the world today represent the finest standard of our civilization. However, some few professors (thank the Lord at this school there are but a few) delight in relieving the student of his basic spiritual values. Throughout the world more and more faculty members look forward to the coming of a new crop of green freshmen with a compulsive desire to “educate” them.

During my term as mission president in New England I was responsible for the Joseph Smith Memorial in Vermont. The visitors’ center, with its lawns and gardens, is surrounded by woods.

A doe took up residence there and each spring brought twin fawns onto the lawn. They were tame enough that the caretaker, on occasion, could pick them up.

One fall a bow hunter came into the grounds and killed a half-grown fawn with an arrow. The unsuspecting doe stood watching a few feet away, interested in what he was doing.

There is no way that that man could be classed as a sportsman, or even a hunter. “Like shooting fish in a bucket” is the expression. No doubt both the trophy and the hunt became exaggerated in the conversation of the man, but there is no way his contemptible deed could give him any sense of achievement.

Each year, many fall victim in the colleges and universities. There, as captive audiences, their faith, their patriotism, and their morality are lined up against a wall and riddled by words shot from the mouths of irreverent professors.

I hope that while you were taking courses you found time enough, after the study of your subject, to study the professors. One may well learn more from studying the professor than studying the subject.

Most of them, I repeat, have influenced your lives for good. But there are others, those few, who delight in destroying faith. I have found it generally true that a professor who ridicules faith and religious beliefs and downgrades patriotism, who continually presses for the loosening of standards of campus discipline for both faculty and for students, is a very interesting subject for study. A student would do well to look him over. May I predict what you will find.

Be assured that one who strives to widen the breadth of accepted moral conduct does so to condone what he is doing. Not infrequently you will find such a one unworthy. If he derides spiritual development, it can generally be concluded that he failed in the subject. He defends himself by declaring it an unnecessary discipline. He is the one who ridicules faith and humility, who would smile in contempt when anyone mentions virtue, or reverence, or dedication, or morality.

Let me give you a clue. There is something very interesting about a person who is anxious to forsake the standards of his church, particularly if he leaves them and encourages others to do likewise.

Have you ever wondered what it means when he can leave it, but he cannot leave it alone? Normal behavior would have him cancel his affiliation in the church and let that be that. Not so with this individual. He can leave it, but he cannot leave it alone. He becomes consumed with it and obsessed with it. That says something about him.

And one might ask, Is he talking to students, or is he really talking to himself? You might ask also, and he might ask himself: Is he happy, really happy?

Let me alert you to one thing. The professor who is uptight about the subject of religion, the one who can’t, just positively can’t, seem to conduct a class without tossing a barb or two at the church, belittling the minister, the rabbi, the priest, the bishop, or the stake president, or at the standards they teach—he is not the major source of concern. His bald-faced brand of prejudice is obvious even to the unwary student. Even the freshman fawn will move aside when he strings his bow.

But there is another that I would like to describe to you. I can best make the point by referring to Shakespeare’s Othello.

Othello claimed the two desires of his life. He became the general—he had arrived at the top—and he won the hand of the lovely Desdemona. Two other characters in the play complete the main cast: Cassio, his trusted lieutenant, and Iago, conspiring and jealous.

Two things Iago wanted in life—to be general and to have Desdemona. Othello had them both.

Motivated by malignant jealousy, Iago set out to destroy Othello—never openly, always careful and clever. He does not, in the play, tell an open, bald-faced lie. He works by innuendo and suggestion.

“Where is Desdemona tonight?” he would ask.

“Oh, she has gone to Relief Society,” Othello would answer.

“Oh, has she?” Iago would question.

It was not the words—on paper they are a harmless inquiry—but the inflection made them contagious with suspicion.

On one occasion Cassio came to Othello’s home with a message. After a conversation with Desdemona, he left to attend to other matters. As he was leaving the home, Othello and Iago approached.

Iago perverted an innocent situation with his comment, “I cannot think it that he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming.”

And so it unfolds. Nothing to incriminate Iago, so innocent was he. Just a sly reference, a gesture, an inflection, the emphasis on the word or the sentence.

Othello is finally convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful, and he determines to destroy her. The tragedy concludes with Othello threatening his innocent wife. She pleads for a week, for a day. Her final plea: “But while I say one prayer.” But he denies her that. How terrible the tragedy of her death when he then finds proof of her innocence!

You may meet an Iago one day as you move forward through life. Through innuendo and sly remarks, through an inflection or a question, in mock innocence he might persuade you to kill your faith, to throttle your patriotism, to tamper with drugs, to kill your agency, to abandon morality and chastity and virtue. If you do, you have an awakening as terribly tragic as that of Othello.

This is the man who ridicules belief in a hereafter and says there is no such thing as God. He’d better hope he is right. For if, as some of us know, the opposite is true, the final scene will be his, and justice more than poetic and penalties adequate in every way will be exacted from him. Ultimately we are punished quite as much by our sins as we are for them.

Now you have completed your studies at this university. Here, theory has it, learning may be pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom. Freedom, one might ask, for whom? Some interesting changes have occurred in the past generation.

Some years ago a plaintiff prospered in her grievance concerning the saying of prayers in public schools. The practice was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. That decision was a partial decision, for the effect was, regardless of the intent, to offer great encouragement to those who would erase from our society every trace of reference to the Almighty.

She wanted to protect her son from any contact with religion, and now her son is protected from my type of religion—but my son is exposed to hers.

There is a crying need for the identification of atheism for what it is, and that is, a religion—albeit a negative one, nevertheless it is a religious expression. It is the one extreme end of the spectrum of thought concerning the causation of things.

Those who are spiritually sensitive recognize God as the cause, a living being who rules in the affairs of man. The so-called atheist declares that God is not—not just that he isn’t the cause of things, but that he indeed is not.

We put sunshine and rain under the heading of weather. It would be a little ridiculous to talk about clear weather and cloudy and claim that the two are not related and could not be considered as part of the same discipline.

It is equally ridiculous to separate theism from atheism and claim that they are two separate matters, particularly when we condone, in some instances encourage, the atheist to preach his doctrine in the college classroom, and then at once move with great vigor to eliminate any positive reference to God. He is protected, as they say, by the principle of academic freedom.

The administrator in the university today who intends to maintain academic freedom had better see to it that he administers impartially. Otherwise he offends the very principle he claims to sustain. When university standards of discipline are dominated by the influence of the atheist, then the administrator is partial. With the Newman Club, Hillel, the institute of religion, or the Wesleyan Society off campus, how can he protect the teaching of atheism in the college classroom?

Atheism, as theism, is divided into many sects—communism, agnosticism, skepticism, humanism, pragmatism, and there are others.

The atheist proclaims his own dishonesty in accepting pay to teach psychology, sociology, history, or English, while he is indeed preaching his atheistic religious philosophy to his students. If the atheist wants to teach his doctrine at a public university, let him purchase property off campus and build himself a building and offer classes. Let him label them for what they are.

As a student in a public university, it should be my right to register for a course in English and be taught the subject of English, or to register for a course in history and be taught the subject of history, and not be exposed as a fish in a barrel to the atheistic philosophies of an unhappy professor.

The patrons of a university, the citizens who finance it, have the right to send their sons and daughters to school without the anxiety that they will be taught sectarian religion, including that of the atheist. They have the right to expect that the standards of campus discipline and dormitory living are not dictated by a few ultraliberals who are confined by no moral standards whatsoever.

We are very particular to forbid anyone from preaching Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Mormonism, or Judaism, in a public school classroom, but for some reason we are very patient with those who teach the negative expression of religion.

In the separation of church and state we ought to demand more protection from the agnostic, from the atheist, from the communist, from the skeptic, from the humanist and the pragmatist, than we have yet been given.

I have had university administrators tell me that they would like to correct this situation, in this school or that one, but they cannot act. The offending professor is protected in what he does. He hides behind tenure and draws support from professional societies.

I submit that the atheist has no more right to teach the fundamentals of his sect in the public school than does the theist. Any system in the schools or in society that protects the destruction of faith and forbids, in turn, the defense of it must ultimately destroy the moral fiber of the people.

Is any lesson more abundantly clear in our present society? We are coming apart at the seams. Anyone can see that. Just read any newspaper any day. Evil has unclothed herself and walks the streets in brazen, impudent defiance.

When you leave this university and go on to further studies in life, Iago will still be there—perhaps not under the title of professor, but he will be clamoring for your attention. It will be interesting for you to see what he will do, subtly, to destroy your faith.

You will have an invitation to compromise your integrity for position, political preference, or money. You have been tested in college, and I’m sure you’ve seen a student or two used up. So you will see many consumed in society, by those proselyting for others to join them in their unhappiness.

Remember, graduates, there are some rights and wrongs. We must come to understand that there are basic truths and basic principles, basic conformities, necessary to achieve happiness. There are some things that are false, that are wrong. For instance, we cannot be happy and at once be wicked—never, regardless of how generally accepted that course may be.

If it were printed in every book, run on every news press, set forth in every magazine; if it were broadcast on every frequency, televised from every station, declared from every pulpit, taught in every classroom, advocated in every conversation, still it would be wrong.

Wickedness never was happiness, neither indeed can it be, neither indeed ever will it be.

I declare in favor of full academic freedom. If prayer is to leave the public schools, let the ridicule of prayer leave also. I speak for humility, for faith, for reverence, for brotherhood, for charity, for patriotism. I speak for temperance, and I likewise speak for justice.

I yearn for the day when the rank and file of our college professors will assert themselves, when the moral fiber in them will set itself against the decay in our public universities.

I pay tribute to those professors, the great body of men and women, those who have taught you well, men and women of integrity who command a discipline and are able to teach it. They are the ones most worth studying. That is something that every freshman should know. They reflect a balance in development of the whole man. These are the men and women to be trusted, to be emulated.

God grant that they may soon look up from their books, set aside their papers, turn from their studies, and stand to be counted with those administrators who struggle to keep the moral foundation of our universities in place. May those men and women wield heavy influence and plant in the hearts and minds of the students a fundamental respect for truth and for integrity.

Now in conclusion, as you leave the campus satisfied at the things you have gained, go through your pockets, look through your luggage, see if something may have been lost—spiritual things—essential if there is to be happiness in your future.

Take with you your faith, your patriotism, your virtue. If they are battered a bit they can be repaired. Even virtue, if tarnished, can be polished again. Carry them away with you. They can be renewed. You will come to know in the years ahead that life has precious little to offer without them.

You have been taught, in the course of your university experience, to seek information from that professor who has inquired and studied a field—for instance, English, mathematics, sociology, the humanities, all subjects. I profess to you in this baccalaureate sermon that I have made inquiry into spiritual things. I have come to know that God lives and that ultimately he will rule in the affairs of men. I know that many of the treasures that you may have set aside will prove to be that which was of most worth to you.

God bless you as you leave this great institution. May his spirit attend you. May there be room somewhere in the things you carry away, for faith, for integrity, for patriotism, for virtue—for which I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Illustrated by Michael Clane Graves