Chip Oscarson, an associate dean in Undergraduate Education at Brigham Young University, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. He expressed the importance of obtaining a transformative education, including spiritual and secure knowledge.
Focusing first on the distinctiveness of a BYU education, Oscarson shared his experience years ago when a Swedish colleague came to visit. She admitted that after graduating high school, her faith discouraged higher education.
Oscarson recalled his friend saying that she was “forced to make a choice between my faith community and my education. But here at BYU, faith and learning seem to coexist. They do not just tolerate each other, but they seem to embrace each other.”
Just as speaking another language allows one the ability to understand ideas and concepts that often can not be conveyed by simple translation, Oscarson said that speaking the language of the spirit does a similar thing.
“The spirit is a language too. It directs and enlightens our minds or causes our hearts to burn, filling us with the light of eternal truths.”
Just as students learn how to seek spiritual and eternal truths at BYU, Oscarson emphasized the importance of considering a formal secular education a part of a moral education.
A student's time spent at BYU is intended to help refine and teach them how to discern truth from error, Oscarson taught.
“In antiquity, although few had access, they believed that education was intended to produce the improvement of the whole person, not marketable skills,” he said. “Don’t take for granted how BYU has historically adhered to this heritage even while many other universities have strayed.”
Over the recent years, there has been a rise in skepticism about the value of university education, Oscarson said. Many view higher education as a consumer product, it is the only way to achieve eventual economic gain and prestige, and simultaneously disregard the impact higher education has on personal growth, moral development and community service.
“When you approach your education as a consumer you keep your relationship to it at arm’s length. You pick and choose what suits your personal tastes and you do not let yourself be changed by it.”
Oscarson urged those in attendance to take the time to invest in all of their classes, even the courses not a part of their chosen major. He suggested that viewing education with the right lens can make the experience true preparation for the eternities.
The scriptures provide precise guidance on how a person can experience a transformative education, emphasizing certain attributes that individuals must develop to be transformed. Oscarson said that the first attribute needed is an earnest desire to seek.
“Seeking is key because it moves us from being reactive — waiting to be ‘commanded in all things’ to laying hold of our agency and learning how to use it," he said. "Curiosity is core to becoming a seeker. Cultivate that need and desire to know more.”
The second and third required attributes for a transformative education are humility and sacrifice, noted Oscarson. Idle curiosity devoid of sacrifice and a readiness to change lacks genuine faith; education requires hard work.
“Could you imagine that Joseph Smith would have received an answer to his prayer for wisdom, had he not sought wisdom and then been prepared to act on the answer he received?”
Patience is another necessary attribute when seeking a transformative education, and Oscarson also added the ability to withhold rash judgment. Students need to be patient with material that they can don't yet understand or simply don't agree.
“When learning, it is not uncommon to come across ideas that challenge what we have already learned. Sometimes it is because the new knowledge is simply not true, but we run a great risk when we dismiss knowledge too quickly.”
The final, and most critical, requirement for a transformative education is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, who will help seekers "know the truth of all things." Oscarson credited spiritual strokes of inspiration that have helped him make discoveries and be successful in the world of academia.
“I testify that the Lord will use both the process and product of your education to refine you, to change you, and to prepare you for work in your homes, your communities and in the Church in ways and places that you cannot now imagine.”