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To survive BYU, laugh and forgive yourself, Samuelsons counsel

President and Sister Samuelson started off the fall semester by talking about the importance of being optimistic and recognizing that failures don’t have to deter success at Tuesday’s campus devotional.

Sister Sharon Samuelson told students, “The days ahead await you. There are going to be days when you are calm and serene. There are going to be days when you are stressed. There will be times of success and times of failure. There will be joys and sorrows which affect you periodically. However, I do wish for each of you that there will be many occasions of laughter…There is strength in laughter that can give you the means to overcome difficulties and enable you to keep life’s ups and downs in perspective and balance.

“Our Savior, Jesus Christ, counseled that whatever comes your way to be of good cheer. What enables you to be of good cheer? It is because of your knowledge of His Atonement and all the blessings which are available for you as a result of it,” Sister Samuelson said.

She continued, “Each of you is given the choice whether to be an optimist and smile or a pessimist and frown. Striving to develop a sense of humor in facing daily tasks is a work in progress. It isn’t always an easy or simple trait to acquire. Sometimes it may appear to be impossible.  You will face some obstacles in your studies, employment, church callings, interpersonal relationships and many other undertakings… This is when I believe humor and the ability to be optimistic can enhance the quality of your life.”

She spoke of President and Sister Hinckley and how they tried to stay positive in their lives and not take themselves too seriously.

With their example, Sister Samuelson added her own in describing an unfortunate experience of having their travel items stolen from them during a trip to Rome. “Crisis plus time equals humor. Many times throughout life, this can be true. I am sure that each of you can recall some incident in your life when something occurred which caused unhappiness, inconvenience, stress, loss and so forth that you can laugh and smile about now after the passage of time.”

She explained, “My family and I can now laugh about what happened in Rome even though at the time it was no laughing matter… It created a bond in our family that enables us to know that when mistakes are made, difficult situations arise, and tears are shed, it is our relationship that really matters and the love we have for each other.”

She concluded by talking about the unique qualities of BYU students saying, “Amid your daily challenges and struggles, you smile, laugh and encourage others. I so encourage you to continue to do so during your sojourn here and as you go forth to serve.”

President Cecil Samuelson followed his wife, talking about their family trip to London and seeing the national excitement over the Wimbledon win by Andy Murray. “What I found interesting was that there was little, if any, mention made of his serving faults, unforced errors, games lost or any of the particularly excellent points scored by his opponent. The entire story would seem, if you didn’t look at the match statistics closely, like a perfectly executed victory that was never in doubt.”

 “The thought occurred to me that perhaps winning Wimbledon, or another sporting contest, is more like successfully completing the game of life or our BYU education than any of us might really expect,” President Samuelson said. “What I mean by this is I believe the Plan of Salvation makes it possible for all of us, when we have tried to live our lives the best we can and have worked to overcome our mistakes and repent of our sins, to come to the final judgment or graduation and have the wonderful pronouncement made to us of ‘well done thou good and faithful servant.’”

He warned students that many of them will face new challenges in the semesters ahead and told them that “We want you to do your best, be the very best you can be and aspire to perfection, but we also want you to be realistic about the circumstances in which you find yourselves. Personal growth comes from being stretched and you will likely find yourselves challenged in ways you have never previously experienced or expected.”

President Samuelson shared his own experience of studying medicine. He mentioned that in medical schools there is an honor society named Alpha Omega Alpha, or AOA, that the students understood to mean “always overly anxious.” He talked about his own academic struggles and said, “While I may not have ever gotten completely over being AOA, I do wish that I had not had the needlessly wasted, sleepless nights that, in fact, hindered rather than helped my academic performance. I am grateful that we have wonderful advisors and the Counseling Center here at BYU to help students who may have similar concerns or worries. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice and counsel. Remember that learning to deal with these issues is an important part of the educational maturation process.”

He also talked about many famous people who suffered disappointments and failures, but who are remembered for their successes. He said, “Winston Churchill lost about as many elections as he won. We know, and give him credit for, his absolute determination during the Second World War. Among the things he said that I have found most helpful is this statement: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’

“Successful students are those who have realistic, but dogged, determination to work through whatever challenges or difficulties that face them,” President Samuelson said.

He also said, “Some, including those who recognize their own failings and imperfections, have found it easy to find fault with Church leaders both current and in the past. Happily, we do not have a doctrine that anyone, including prophets and high Church leaders, is perfect. In fact, we understand that there has been only one, the Lord Jesus Christ, who made it through mortality without mistake, sin or blemish.”

Sharing the experiences of Joseph Smith, President Samuelson said, “Think of this counsel a loving Lord gave to Joseph… ‘Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided . . . but be diligent to the end.’

“This was good advice these many years ago and it is excellent advice for all at BYU today. We need to do our best, but we also need to recognize that we have some natural limits placed on our abilities so that we might grow by stretching but not breaking our capacities,” President Samuelson said.

He added, “We all have infirmities or weaknesses, inconsistencies and failings. We need to learn to bear with our own and also with those of others. We should not, as some people seem to do, have higher standards for others than they do for themselves, but we also should not have unrealistically high expectations for ourselves. If we do, we are in effect failing to recognize not only the blessing but the essentiality of the Savior’s Atonement in the Father’s plan for each of us.”

President Samuelson concluded by speaking of mistakes and the Atonement. He said of mistakes, “These we must have to gain essential experiences but we also need to understand that we can find in the Savior’s sacrifice for us every compensation and help we require to overcome all that vexes or frustrates us when we have done our part which includes our best efforts.

“May God bless us in our struggles with the knowledge that the Father and the Son are there for us and will bless us in our studies, our personal lives and in our efforts to become more like them because they do live and their promises are real for each of us.”

To read the talk in its entirety, visit speeches.byu.edu. The devotional will also be rebroadcast on BYUtv. Check byutv.org for schedules, as well as on demand availability.

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Cecil and Sharon Samuelson
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